Two quotes I live by in the baseball card hobby: “Collect what you like,” and “There’s a product for everyone.” But what happens when you can no longer afford to collect what you like?
Case in point: 2020 Bowman. If my collecting habits were baseball card releases, Bowman would be my flagship. Is it my favorite? No, but it’s the rock for my collection year after year. I love opening boxes, looking at the prospects that are included each year, and enjoying the “hits” when pulled.
My Personal Connection to Bowman
Bowman was the first ever hobby box I opened. It was 1998, and I had just finished my sophomore year in high school. That summer I turned 16 and acquired freedom: a drivers license. No longer was I stuck in my no stoplight hometown of 800 habitants in rural Illinois. Mom wasn’t my taxi to the “big city” that boasted a Wal-Mart and TWO McDonald’s locations.
A 30-minute drive to a local card shop became a weekly adventure in the summer of ‘98 and my love of baseball cards returned after a 5-year absence. I was also working at the local IGA grocery store earning money for gas and picking up stacks of baseball cards each week.
One day I pulled the trigger. This trip wasn’t going to be spent digging through the quarter boxes for copies of Mickey Morandini and Jeff Blauser Cubs cards. No, I was going to buy a hobby box of 1998 Bowman. I had just started an account on some new online web auction called eBay with the WebTV that was gifted to me earlier in the year.
Remember Ruben Mateo?
Rookie cards were still a thing since the last time I collected baseball cards. The new names were Ruben Mateo, Eddie Yarnall, Ryan Anderson and Darnell McDonald.
And since 1998, I’ve had a love affair with Bowman baseball cards. In 2006 or 2007 I attempted to put together the run of modern Bowman sets already having boxed sets of 1989 and 1990 Bowman. The sets were tough to build on my small market radio station income as a 24-year old.
One Card for Hundreds – Not Gonna Do It
One lesson was learned putting together those Bowman sets almost 15 years ago. Don’t trade hot cards for a stack of commons. That’s important for the One Million Cubs Project and why I typically turn down the one hot card for 500 commons trades.
In 2008, my professional life took a turn and baseball cards no longer were a hobby. I also needed some extra money, and that 2001 Upper Deck Albert Pujols rookie card would have been nice to have to flip for some extra cash. Alas, it had been traded for a stack of Bowman commons that bore names such as Dwaine Bacon, Jeff Goldbach, and Pat Cline.
Bowman became a favorite again when I returned to the hobby a few years later in 2012 or 2013. But there were some new products that really caught my eye like Allen & Ginter and Topps Archives. Still, I enjoyed opening the new packs of Bowman much like Topps flagship has a dedicated following.
Hobby Box Prices Have Exploded
By 2017 I was in the rip and flip stage of the hobby buying cases at a time. My case price for 2017 Bowman – $775. The hobby case price right now for 2020 Bowman as it’s set to be released in a couple weeks (after being delayed): $2,950.
It’s the Jasson Dominguez effect and will be interesting to see where his base 1st Bowman cards will sell during release week. Dominguez is a New York Yankees prospect from Dominican Republic, and just turned 17 in February.
But there’s a product for everyone, right? Yes, of course. That is the great thing about the hobby in 2020. Lower budget releases exist such as Topps Opening Day and Topps Big League. Topps flagship is a great buy. There are hit-based products for the high rollers. Topps literally has a release for every type of collector at every budget level.
Why Am I Upset?
So, why am I upset that I can no longer afford to collect what I like – Bowman hobby boxes? Nostalgia and human nature. Bowman takes me back to that summer of ’98. It’s a reminder of how great freedom felt getting behind the wheel of a car and leaving the house on my own. At the same time, it’s the harsh reality of capitalism. Sometimes what we want is not wanted by others. Other times what we want is now wanted by thousands upon thousands of other collectors that are willing to pay more hence driving up hobby box prices to obscene amounts.
As much as I dislike not picking up a few hobby boxes of 2020 Bowman, at least we have retail Bowman. It scratches the itch for Bowman baseball cards. A blaster box for $20…if you can find them. In my opinion, as a Bowman collector and not a prospector, I suggest buying retail Bowman over hobby boxes at the current price points. The odds are stacked against you pulling a shiny chrome autograph, but there are paper retail autographs that are available at much better odds.
Bowman hobby boxes are not worth the price tag of $250, and it upsets me they are that high. In the end, I am okay with that and you can find me opening retail blaster boxes of Bowman baseball cards later this month.
Through the mail (TTM) autographs are a common hobby for collectors. Today, we have many options to send baseball players requesting a signature.
With the advent of the Internet, photos can be found of minor league baseball players, or players that do not yet have a baseball card. It has become fairly cheap to print photos using kiosks at retail stores. You can even find websites and apps to make your own custom baseball card.
Before the days of cheap printing costs and the World Wide Web, blank pieces of paper were common to send to players for an autograph. The most common option were 3×5 index cards. Since we have so many more options now, you see less and less signed 3×5 index cards.
During one of my random Cubs eBay searches I found a seller who happens to be a large autograph collector. He had listed a lot of (93) signed Cubs minor league 3×5 index cards.
I’m a huge Cubs fan, and collector of just about anything Cubs – even minor league cards, autographs and items. I find minor league baseball fascinating. I placed a bid on this lot and was able to win it for less than a 20-dollar bill.
None of the autographs were from players that went on to play Major League Baseball. That was disclosed in the auction, and I was excited to find out which former Cubs farmhands would be included.
There was a mix of players that were highly touted in the minor leagues, and there were a few players I had to Google. One signature inside was a former first round draft pick, Mark Pawelek, who didn’t even reach double-A. He was taken with the 20th overall pick in the 2005 MLB Draft.
Another Cubs first round pitcher was Bobby Brownlie, taken with the 21st overall pick in the 2002 MLB Draft.
Brownlie, at one time before injury at Rutgers, was in the mix to be the first overall pick in that 2002 draft. He did reach triple-A with the Iowa Cubs in 2005, but did not make it to Chicago or the big leagues.
The next year, 2003, the Cubs has the 6th overall draft pick and used it on a power hitting outfielder named Ryan Harvey.
Once again, a Cubs first round draft pick failed to break into the major leagues. Ryan Harvey topped out at double-A Tennessee in 2008 and was out of organized professional baseball following the 2010 season.
Matt Creighton’s pro baseball career began in 2002 with the Lansing Lugnuts. By 2004, Creighton had reached triple-A Iowa.
This Paul Hoilman autograph was obtained while he was playing for the Peoria Chiefs in 2012. Hoilman was a postseason All Star for the Boise Hawks in 2011, and even had a Bowman baseball card in 2012. The Chicago Cubs releases the 6-4, 240-pound outfielder prior to the 2013 season. He never played pro baseball again.
Jemel Spearman spent six seasons in the Cubs organization. He moved on to the Washington Nationals organization and peaked in triple-A.
Rebel Ridling had a great name and a great collegiate baseball career at Oklahoma State.
Ridling was taken in the 25th round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the Cubs and bounced around the organization for five years.
Nothing pops more than a big looping signature in blue sharpie on a white index card. Grant Johnson was the Cubs second round pick in the 2004 MLB Draft out of Notre Dame.
Ferenc Jongejan is from the Netherlands. He appeared in 160 games in the Cubs organization. Jongejan began his pro career in 2001 with the low-A Lansing Lugnuts and moved up to double-A West Tennessee in 2002, and triple-A Iowa in 2003. His final pro season was in high-A Daytona in 2004.
Adam Wynegar was a sixth rounder out of James Madison University in the 2001 MLB Draft. Wynegar never made it above single-A.
One of the players I had to google was Carlos Urrutia. Not surprising the name didn’t ring a bell.
The pitcher from Venezuela only appeared in 19 games in the Cubs organization split between rookie league in Arizona and just 12 games at short season Boise in 2002.
Matt Hudgins only played 20 games in the Cubs organization. Those appearances occurred during the 2007 season with the Arizona Rookie League squad.
And I’ll end it with a “Z” player, Brad Zapenas. Zapenas was a 42nd round pick out of Boston College in the 2011 MLB Draft. He played with the Cubs organization from 2011 through 2013.
Picking up these signed index cards has given me another thing to search on eBay as there are several rare Cubs autographs from players that appeared 100 years ago.
It’s May, I think. Sometimes I forget what day it is, but more than ever with shelter in place in effect. Now I forget what month it is. Shouldn’t I be watching baseball? It’s may after all. Hopefully the reports are true, and we’ll see baseball by the Fourth of July.
In the absence of baseball at least we have baseball cards. Two packages arrived as the calendar turned to May. The origins were Georgia and New York. Russ in Alpharetta sent a stack of Ryne Sandberg baseball cards and a vintage Ernie Banks card.
In return he picked out a couple cards from my eBay Store that I sent his way. The stack of Sandberg cards included the inaugural issues from Upper Deck in 1989 and Leaf in 1990. Additionally, a couple Stadium Club cards, and O-Pee-Chee.
The Ernie Banks card is really nice. It’s from the 1970 Topps set and is pretty clean. I’m pretty close to having the complete run of Ernie Banks Topps cards. I think the only cards I am missing are his 1954 Topps rookie card and the 1955 Topps card.
In a surprise, a bubble mailer from New York showed up in my mailbox. It’s from one of the hobby’s best – @SoCalHobbyClub. He must have opened up some 2020 Donruss.
The Adbert Alzolay rookie card is a throwback to the 1986 Donruss design.
My favorites, of course, were the Javier Baez cards. The Donruss Elite Series has a pink border.
Another pink border from this base card #90.
Both beautiful Baez cards. Thanks for the surprise, Andy! Stay tuned, more mail day packages to be posted.
Western Illinois is my alma mater, and I was the Director of the Leatherneck Sports Network for three years. One of my duties was play-by-play announcer for the men’s basketball team.
I love dynasty modes. Growing up I absolutely loved the season modes for Madden Football, and later dynasty modes. Usually, I would just sim through the actual games and just play general manager to build a winner.
So, when I saw O’Donnell’s series originally run on SB Nation, I was enthralled. I am so captivated by this series that I am actually watching the computer sim videos of the games he is posting in the articles from the NCAA Tournament. I’m cheering out loud when the Leathernecks hit a big basket.
Coach Ricky Charisma, Bud Richards, Ferdinand Thompson, Giovanni Nelke, Deke Van. Following this series those names have become just as special as Coach Mo, Ceola Clark, Terell Parks, “Donny Doubles” Don McAvoy, and Jack Houpt.
Recently, the current Director of the Leatherneck Sports Network, Danny Frey, reached out asking if I had audio from my time broadcasting WIU men’s basketball. Somewhere, I do have it. I keep everything, and that probably doesn’t surprise you. One million Cubs baseball cards and all.
I finally found a couple thumb drives. Remember those? One of the thumb drives contained folders for 2011-12 WIU Basketball and 2012-13 WIU Basketball. All of the audio was here. Complete game broadcasts, interviews, highlights, and special player highlight montages.
As I follow the latest run in season eight of the Western Illinois 2K8 Dynasty, I had to go back and relive the magical 2011-12 Leathernecks basketball season. Western, as a number five seed in the conference tournament, made a run to the nationally televised championship game. An NCAA Tournament berth was on the line. The Leathernecks had never gone to the Big Dance, nor had the program ever been invite to a Division 1 postseason tournament (WIU made the transition to D1 for the 1981-82 season).
Here is my highlight montage for the 2011-12 Summit League championship between the Leathernecks and the South Dakota State Jackrabbits.
That final clip was broadcast the next day on the Dan Patrick Show. While on the long bus ride from Sioux Falls, South Dakota to Macomb, Illinois I began receiving text messages they heard my audio on the program.
I can absolutely tie this into the Chicago Cubs. While the Leathernecks did not hear their name on Selection Sunday, Western Illinois did receive an invitation to the program’s first-ever NCAA Division 1 postseason tournament. We were heading to Corvallis, Oregon to face the Oregon State Beavers in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI).
Shelter in place has opened America up to some amazing online content. My wife and I binge watched Tiger King, along with many other shows on Netflix. ESPN has gifted us with the 10-hour Last Dance documentary on Michael Jordan and the 1990’s Chicago Bulls. And one of my favorite pieces of content provided recently has been Ricky O’Donnell’s online series documenting his dynasty mode in College Hoops 2K. He created a dynasty mode for my alma mater, Western Illinois, and has a goal to bring the Leathernecks a national championship. Even if WIU was not my alma mater, I would be thrilled to read each part of this series.
With all of this extra time to consume content, it has also taken me down rabbit holes. I started watching Perfect Strangers and Step by Step on Hulu. Then I read each show’s Wikipedia page, and you know how time gets away by clicking and clicking and clicking on Wikipedia.
So my latest rabbit hole was on eBay. Every now and then I get in search mode. It typically starts out with looking for any new 1954 Topps Ernie Banks rookie card listings. Then, I’ll stumble upon other random Cubs artifacts. Sometimes I’ll just make a generic “Cubs” or “Chicago Cubs” search and play with the search filters. Once such listing caught my attention when I sorted by highest price. A run of 42 Kris Bryant autographed 1 of 1’s from Topps Transcendent. The price tag – $250,000. Yikes, that’s about $6,000 per card.
Is that price ridiculous? Maybe a little bit, but nothing comparing to the next listings you see in this blog. After seeing that I typed in other search terms looking for laughable eBay listings. Let’s start with one of the more famous listings. The Jose Uribe 1990 Fleer phenomenon.
That beauty is still up for grabs at $250,000. At least it’s graded PSA 10. There are many opinions on how Uribe-mania began. My opinion is that it was a joke, and it stuck.
Jumping down the Jose Uribe rabbit hole we find a more reasonable option in this graded PSA 9. My favorite part is the $0.20 added to the $100,000 price tag. It also appears to be running at auction.
It’s not graded, but this 1990 Fleer Jose Uribe has been slabbed and confirmed authentic. You know, because there are so many counterfeits in the wild.
Not limited to 1990 Fleer, Jose Uribe listings extend to his other baseball cards. This 1988 Topps is a raw copy…but it’s on Sale!
The $7,500 price tag is because it has an “alignment mistake,” and “logo misprint.”
While we are on the topic of alignment mistakes, take a gander at this 1989 Topps Doug Sisk…or is it a Larry Owen card. Two for the price of one at the bargain price of $15,000. However, you’ll have to fork over an extra $150 for shipping. The seller must be traveling cross country to hand deliver this gem. Look no further than the date on this picture. April 20. 4/20. I think that’s all we need to explain this listing…
Moving on to 1990 Topps. Here’s a Bo Jackson error card, and apparently a 1/1.
Guessing it’s the printing error on the centering that makes this Bo a $30,000 card. Hey, free shipping!
Another 1990 Topps error. Jim Abbott has FOUR EYES. Another 1/1. Only $20,000.
Finally, I’m glad my Cubs collection is not in need of a 1994 Topps Cubs team set. It might set me back $800,000. This Cincinnati Reds team set will only set you back $800,250 and you’ll have to spring for an extra four bucks to get it shipped.
Admittedly, there are probably far more ridiculous baseball card listings on eBay. As of the writing of this piece there were over 14 million listings when you type in “baseball card” inn the eBay search bar.
Feel free to spend a few minutes in search of some more ridiculous eBay listings and share with me.
For over a year now I have had an ongoing trade with Glenn in Connecticut, also known as The Hobby Spyder on Twitter. He conducts ongoing trades in which he titles NAFTA. Yes, that stands for what you think it would – North American Free Trade Agreement.
In blogs of past, I would post about every package received per day. Since time got away during my Spring Training trip, it allowed me to switch things up on this site.
Though time isn’t as crunched lately as it has been in the past, it’s become a good time to practice change. And that’s why I have spotlighted various trade maildays, as opposed to detailing each and every mail day.
My latest NAFTA package arrived last week, and as always Glenn included a little bit of everything. One thing in our hobby that surprises me is how much sales can differ between players. One pairing that really shocks me is Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna. You can pick up Albies rookies for $2 or less, while an Acuna will set you back $20. Same team, similar age, similar talents.
Eloy Jimenez is another shocker to me. I feel he is undervalued, and think that could change later this year if he breaks out for the White Sox. We should hopefully have baseball this year…hopefully.
Another Cubs prospect was Alex Lange, though he was shipped off to Detroit in the Nicholas Castellanos deal. I was high on Lange when he was drafted in the first round (30th overall) out of LSU in 2017. There was even talk that he could make the jump to Chicago during his draft year, or 2018.
Unfortunately, Lange did not make that jump, and he was traded to Detroit in 2019. The pitcher reached double-A last year and is projected to begin the season, whenever that may be, in triple-A. Glenn sent a sweet Bowman purple parallel numbered /250.
Rated rookies are rad! Check out this Nico Hoerner.
Earlier this year I reviewed 2020 Topps, and overall I was very pleased with the product. One addition that Topps improved on were the manufactured relics. Topps did a rookie medallion this year, and look fantastic.
A new card for my collection is from the 2020 Topps rookie medallion set. What a beautiful card – Ryne Sandberg rookie medallion.
Finally, how about a hit. Duane Underwood has appeared in some big league games for the Chicago Cubs. This is a Panini Absolute Rookie Autograph of the young pitcher.
While he is young in age (he turns 26 this July), he’s a professional baseball veteran as he was drafted by the Cubs in the second round of the 2012 MLB Draft.
Stay tuned for more mail day posts this week. I caught up opening my mail over the weekend with eight packages altogether.
Late nights and early mornings. That’s the theme for Spring Training. However, I’ve reached that point in my life where I can do either…but not both. That was the conclusion after waking up Friday morning. Granted, my alarm on day one sounded at 3:45 a.m. and I closed my eyes for bed after 1 a.m. Even in my 20’s, it was tough to stay awake for nearly 24 consecutive hours.
But…this morning my good buddy Crawly asked where the second day of the spring training trip was. So, that led me to this post your reading. I’ve known of Crawly for five or six years, but did not actually meet him until two years ago at Club 400.
You see, Crawly is a Cubs Convention celebrity. He’s everywhere, and usually it’s in the front row of the sessions featuring Cubs management and players in the ballroom. We probably hung out at Club 400 events for a good year before he remembered my name and we’ve become great friends since.
The day I arrived at Spring Training, Crawly called me. The phone call actually came just as I had checked into my Mesa, Arizona hotel room before heading up to Scottsdale for The Heckler bar crawl. Crawly said he’s at the airport and flying to Arizona for the weekend.
We exchanged text messages on Friday morning (day two of my trip), and planned to meet up at Sloan Park. The Cubs had a night game at the San Diego Padres complex in Peoria this night. My original plan was to go to the White Sox complex for an afternoon game, and on to Peoria to see the Cubs.
Crawly was staying with his friend, Jon, from Real Cubs Insider. Jon gave us a tour of Sloan Park. Checked out the team store, which blew me away. There are probably 200 different Cubs hats alone in the team store. Then, we went to the back fields, where I would spend a lot of time the following mornings to watch minor league instructs.
After that, we went over to the batting practice fields, and a few guys were coming out to take some swings. One of the first Cubs players to come out and take swings was Kyle Schwarber. He even played around on the bases…future stolen base threat???
This is the first Spring Training for David Ross…as the Chicago Cubs manager. He came out, and I tried to catch a good picture of him watching batting practice. This was the best shot I could capture.
One of my favorite moments from my trip was our interaction with Ryan Dempster. A couple days earlier, Dempster had tweeted out about baseball cards. Crawly had replied that he should send the Cubs to the One Million Cubs Project.
As we watched batting practice, my head was on a swivel. Jon gave us a great little spot to watch and take some pictures, so I would randomly check back near the small bleachers on the other side for any Cubs players that had walked over to sign autographs.
Directly behind us, I noticed a couple guys sitting in the grass. It appeared to be an interview. And it also appeared to be Ryan Dempster. I wandered by to get a closer look, and sure enough it was Dempster. We waited until they finished and caught Dempster walking back in and chatted him up, as he signed a baseball for me.
He looked at Crawly, and said: “Hey, I need to get those cards for that guy.” I looked up at Dempster and said: “I’m that guy!” They also posed for a picture.
As we continued watching batting practice, a few Cubs would come over and sign autographs. I was able to get Adbert Alzolay, Duane Underwood, and even Theo Epstein. He was rocking a Pearl Jam hat.
Crawly mentioned The Heckler was doing a Sloan Park tour in the afternoon. I decided to skip out on checking out the White Sox game, and that was the point I decided this was going to be a Cubs-only trip. All Cubs, all the time.
I had met Brad from The Heckler the night before at the bar crawl, and we have some mutual friends (we have many mutual friends, but these are non-Cubs related friends). Crawly and I crashed The Heckler tour (sorry, Brad). In the middle of the tour we noticed some guy scaling a fence. Many of us recognized who this was, but our tour guide did not and yelled out: “Hey, buddy! I wouldn’t do that!”
It was Ryan Dempster. He came up and told a couple stories to the group including a hilarious incident from his playing days when the Cubs trained at Hohokam Park. He shard a story about getting pulled over by a cop while he and Ted Lilly were bicycling to the Cubs park.
Once the tour concluded, I gave Crawly a ride back to Jon’s place where he was staying. There was a group of Club 400 friends meeting up that night, but I decided I was only going to burn the candle at one end and would turn in early.
My second day ended by grabbing some 2020 Topps Heritage blaster boxes at Target and ripped some baseball cards in my hotel room.
Another memorable day at Cubs Spring Training! Thanks to Jon for the tour, Brad for letting us crash the Sloan Park tour, and Crawly for sharing our first spring training together.
Today marks the 37th anniversary of the infamous Lee Elia tirade. After a Cubs loss early in the 1983 season, Elia went off when talking with reporters. One of them recorded it, and in the end there were just as many F-bombs dropped by the Chicago Cubs manager as years that have passed since that day – 37.
I met Bob Ibach at a Club 400 event in 2017 that featured Bill Buckner. Ibach was the PR Director for the Chicago Cubs during the 1980’s, and was in that role when Lee Elia made waves with his postgame tirade. Bob shared the behind the scenes of that day on his Facebook page this week, and he gave me permission to reprint it here.
Behind the Scenes of the Lee Elia Rant as written by Bob Ibach
Another from a series of baseball musings, gleaned from my 45 plus years in professional baseball. And this one is a timely one, as it will be 37 years since it happened later this week, on Wednesday.
Yes, April 29, 1983 is a day I’ll never forget. And neither will my friend, Lee Elia, then the manager of the Chicago Cubs.
Baseball coverage was far different then. No Iphones, no tweeting, no internet or Facebook. Reporters for the most part carried just notepads and most wrote on typewriters. A few of the radio guys had tape recorders and mics, and one fella was Les Grobstein, who is still working these days hosting an overnight show at WSCR in Chicago, the flagship station of the Cubs.
In fact, Les will have me on as his guest this coming Wednesday, April 29 around midnight, to rehash and remember that infamous day at Wrigley Field when the Cubs lost a 2-1 game to the Los Angeles Dodgers on a wild pitch tossed by Hall of Fame reliever Lee Smith.
The season of 1983 didn’t begin well for manager Lee Elia’s team, getting off to a start of something like 5-14. Lee was an energetic sort, wore his heart on his sleeve, and desperately wanted to deliver a winner to a team he played for many years before. He had been a coach on manager Dallas Green’s World Series winning Philadelphia team in 1980, and the man Dallas had tabbed to help “Build A New Tradition” for the North Siders when Dallas was hired by new owner Tribune Company in the fall of 1981.
Within a few weeks of Green’s hire, he brought me in as his PR director, along with Frank Maloney in the ticket department. Frank, one of the nicest fellows I have ever met in sports, and a former head football coach at Syracuse in the 1970s, recently passed away from a brain tumor.
On this particular day in April, 37 years ago, the tension was mounting and so was the frustration as Elia walked off the field after a tough to LA. In those days, the Cubs clubhouse was way down the left field line, past the rolled up tarp, and beyond the bullpen, tucked away in the far corner, where the brick walled touched the ivy vines of the bleachers. Getting there after a game provided fans a great opportunity to vent their frustrations from the lower grandstands as well.
And “vent” they did after this loss.
As Elia and two of his players, Keith Moreland and Larry Bowa, walked down the line after the game, a group of about 15 fans, some with beer still remaining in their paper cups, barked and hooted at the group as they passed on by. A few started tossing their cups, with beer still inside, at the group. That’s when Bowa and Moreland had heard and seen enough. Both guys could have short tempers and pretty soon they began to move towards the stands and these howling fans–they were going to go after them.
Fortunately, they were pulled back, but Elia saw it all and as he continued down towards the clubhouse and walked inside his tight headquarters and into his office space (very small), the writers gathered there and started to fire away with questions. The post-game presser began, and Grobstein turned on his tape recorder to preserve the conversation.
Then it happened–the Lee Elia tirade began.
It went on for about 4-5 minutes, with well over 50 F bombs unloaded about how Lee felt about the “real Chicago Cubs fans.” You can check out the full tirade on the internet these days, because it lives on and on there. Some have called it the best baseball blowup in history.
During that meltdown, Lee noted that 85 percent of the world worked for a living and the rest of the 15 percent came out to Wrigley Field. It was the colorful language he used to describe that group which would haunt him forever.
I learned much more about that day, some 25 years later when Lee and I worked together on a fundraiser in Chicago with a “talking baseball” autographed by him that raised monies for prostate cancer. Elia explained to me that he “meant” to direct his message to the 15 or so fans who had been tossing beer and shouting at his group, and NOT 15 PERCENT of those Cub fans who came out to day baseball at Wrigley Field on a regular basis and who needed to find employment.
“I wasn’t always the greatest with my math,” he told me later. “That was on me.”
Now to the story behind the story of that day in 1983.
After this outburst had finished, Grobstein ran into me up in the press box after sharing that tape recording with Lou Boudreau, Vince Lloyd and Harry Caray, who had just concluded their post-game shows and were preparing to leave. Les approached me. As a courtesy, he said he felt bad for Lee and wanted to give me an opportunity to share the contents with Dallas Green to hear. But he needed it right back, because he had a job to do and planned on airing it that night on his radio station.
Had that happened today, in 2020, it would have been heard worldwide within a half hour, if not sooner. Back then, we had some time to try and mend a fence, as they say. That began with me taking the tape to Green’s office and behind closed doors, I told my boss we had to listen to it. “Lee went ballistic” I told Dallas. “This is gonna be a big story.”
As I played the tape and sat there alone with Dallas, I could see his face contort with anguish and horror as the words came out of Elia’s mouth. He rubbed his hands through his silver hair several times and finally said to me, “Ok Ibach, what are you gonna do with YOUR media guys.”
Oh, now they were MY media, I thought to myself. Oh boy.
Suddenly all of the Chicago media was MINE. A few moments later, my secretary knocked on the door and told me a hoard of media were calling and coming down to Wrigley Field to get the story. The news was out. I am guessing that the number of media who eventually came down to Clark & Addison that early evening were double or triple the number who actually had been there that afternoon to chronicle the game.
This was gonna be a huge story.
I tried to think of a game plan, but needed to do so quickly. Fortunately, because I had been a beat reporter back in Baltimore for a decade covering the Orioles, and had also done radio work on CBS and hosted my own talk show years before, I had some idea on how fast this story was about to unfold–and that we had to work fast to do damage control.
I called Jack Brickhouse, the Cubs recently retired game broadcaster now doing a 6 p.m. nightly report on WGN, and asked Jack if he was willing to have Lee on his show at 6:15 to give his side of this story, and hopefully apologize to the fans or at the very least explain WHAT he was saying and WHY he said it this way. Dallas thought it was a good idea because, as I explained to him “at least this way the media would have to include his side of things and hopefully Lee would ask for understanding and forgiveness (assuming he’d go that far) BEFORE the media was brought in for a press conference” that night inside Green’s office.”
There was NO getting around doing that conference, and Lee needed to be there.
That’s where Lee’s car keys saved his butt–and job.
We called down to the Cubs locker room to Elia’s phone in the manager’s office. It rang and rang and rang. No one picked up. Dallas looked at me and said sharply “call again, I need him up here. NOW!” So I did. This time, Lee picked up.
“Lee, you gotta get up here right away. Dallas heard the tape of your post-game media session. We need you up here right away.”
Lee then explained that he had promised his daughter that he would be a celebrity umpire at her game that night in the suburbs, and he was late and had to get there right away. Could this wait until the next morning? By now, Dallas wasn’t in any mood to wait, and when I told him about this celebrity deal for his daughter, he said, “tell him if he ain’t up here in 3 minutes don’t bother coming back tomorrow morning.”
Lee then understood something bad was brewing.
(Full disclosure, I found out years later that the reason he had picked up the phone the second time around was that he had forgotten his car keys and had returned to the office to retrieve them. Or else he would have been gone. Fate was on his side I guess.)
When Lee showed up in Dallas’ office, and sat down, Dallas played the tape for Lee. Within a minute or so, you could see Elia’s face turn ghost white and his lips tightened. You could easily tell he had not realized just how emotional he had been, nor did he remember all that foul language. I remember him wincing at times with each F-bomb dropped. It was that bad and ugly.
“What do you need me to do,” he finally asked, looking down at times and then over to Dallas and myself. That’s when I raised the idea of the 6:15 p.m. radio show with Brickhouse, and of how he could explain himself and hopefully say something about why he had gotten so emotional and carried away. And yeah, an apology might be a good idea too.
Lee agreed, and he went on the air, then waited as we saw an onslaught of media cram into Dallas’ offices, ready to fire away with questions. I felt like what it might have been like at the Alamo or at Custer’s last stand.
It lasted about a half hour at least, but seemed like two hours.
That night and into the following morning, it was THE STORY covered by all the local print and broadcast media. And it didn’t end with just that one day. This incident was raised and discussed well into the summer, and then took on a life all of its own for years and years to come. Just check out Utube and other sites on the internet today if you doubt it.
When Elia returned to Chicago 25 years later and we held a press conference at Harry Caray’s downtown restaurant, over 100 media attended and the subject was rehashed, but this time his “Talking Baseball” with some good language on it helped to ease the pain of The Tirade.
Later that night, after attending a Cubs home game and sitting in the front row behind home plate, thanks to season ticket holder Jim Anixter (the Cubs never gave Lee tickets or credentials that night nor did they invite him to appear on a radio or TV show), we retreated back to his Westin hotel off Michigan Ave to have a few cocktails.
Soon it was time for the 10 p.m. local news, and of course, the coverage of his outing at Harry Caray’s Restaurant that day at noon was the headliner that day. From where we sat, we could see a TV screen on the wall, and we were close enough to hear the news coverage. What caught our attention was when one of the lead anchors said, “we’re gonna take a poll tonight. Do you forgive Lee Elia for what he said 25 years ago at Wrigley Field about Cub fans. Call now to vote at this 800 number and punch in 1 for Yes and 2 for No. We’ll post the results of our poll at the bottom of our broadcast.”
Lee heard this and looked over at me. His eyes were sad. “Maybe this was a bad idea coming back here and doing this Talking Baseball thing,” he said. “I still think they hate me. I don’t think I want to watch this anymore.”
I felt his pain, but I assured Lee that I really believed he would be surprised, that the Cub fans I knew over the years loved Lee, and loved the fact that he wanted to win. What they told me was that Lee was “the real Chicago kind” who wore his heart on his sleeve and reminded many of Bears coach Mike Ditka, who would fire off things emotionally on a regular basis. Football fans and all sports fans generally loved Mike Ditka.
The clock neared 10:25 and the newscast was winding down as we sat and had another beverage. Then the announcer came back on. “We have the results of our poll on Lee Elia.” As he was giving out the final tally, they posted it on a graphic on the screen.
I looked up, as did Lee. We both held our breath. Then we saw the result flashing before us. Over 80 percent (I don’t remember the exact number but I think it was 83 percent) forgave Lee Elia.
Lee blinked in disbelief, exhaled and let out a huge sigh. Then I noticed moisture trickling down from his eyes, which were turning red.
“You don’t know what this means to me,” he finally said, his voice shaking with emotion. “They forgive me….wow. You know, all I ever did was LOVE the fans and LOVE the Cubs. I was a Cub player and I so much wanted to deliver a winning team and a World Series to this great city. Now….after seeing this, it gives me some inner peace.”
And then he wept some more. So did I.
That night ended with two grown men crying. Crying tears of joy and closure for both of us. It had given me inner peace as well, knowing that my friend Lee Elia, could hopefully bury a few of those dark moments in his life which had happened so many years ago.
Lennon reached out last week offering up twenty Chicago Cubs autographed baseball cards. I’m a sucker for autographs, and twenty of them really turned me on to a trade.
He said he was interested in a signed 1986 Topps Traded Bobby Bonilla rookie card. This was tough for me because, despite being a White Sox card, it was one of my favorite cards growing up. I had acquired it at some point in the last 10 years.
A Carl Everett autographed baseball was also on his want list for this trade. Everett signed the ball for me before a charity softball game that pit former Cubs against former White Sox. For some reason I had some baseballs signed by former White Sox players, and I only collect Cubs signed baseballs. So, I was glad to trade the Everett ball.
Let’s see what I got! Warren Brusstar on a 1985 Donruss signed in blue sharpie. Brusstar has a nice signature. The pitcher came to the Cubs in 1983 in a trade that also included the subject of the next autographed card.
Steve Trout! A signed 1987 Donruss that Steve signed in black sharpie.
I’ve had the privilege of meeting Trout several times at Cubs Convention, and he even bought me and a couple friends pizza one year.
One of the players that was on the other side of the deal that involved Brusstar and Trout was Randy Martz. He was sent to the southside with Scott Fletcher, Pat Tabler, and Dick Tidrow.
Leon Durham signed a 1984 Donruss, and I can’t quite make out what he signed underneath. At first glance I thought maybe, “Bull,” but as I looked closer I don’t think that’s what it says.
On the back of this 1983 Fleer Bill Campbell, the card states Campbell coaches women’s basketball in the offseason.
Ron Meredith was called up and made his Major League Baseball debut in 1984 with the Cubs. He tossed 5.1 innings that year. Meredith signed a 1986 Fleer and his autograph is very loopy, and I like it.
Another very nice signature comes from Guy Hoffman. It also helps when using a thin sharpie. It provides a much cleaner autograph.
This one is personalized to John, but that doesn’t bother me. It’s staying in my collection regardless.
The 1981 Donruss set is a fascinating story. It is plagued by errors and Keith Olberman took many of the photos. I have also heard that sets were sent in boxes with the cards inside rubber banded. Not sure if that last part is true, but a story I have heard. I wonder if Olberman took this picture of Doug Capilla?
Taking up the most real estate on a baseball card with his signature is Mitch Williams. Much like his baseball nickname, “Wild Thing” took a similar approach with his autograph.
Jody Davis is one of the biggest Cubs fan favorites of the 1980’s. He actually spent time with two other organizations before making his big league debut in 1981 with the Cubs.
Davis was signed by the New York Mets in 1976, and also spent time with the enemy down in St. Louis, before the Cubs selected him in the 1980 Rule V Draft.
I love that Junior Kennedy signed his first name as a suffix, Jr.
Jeff Pico snuck his autograph tightly on this 1988 Fleer card.
Did Drew Hall lose a bet to grow that mustache?
Looping double D’s for Doug Dascenzo. 1989 Score was packed with information on the back.
Doug’s complete minor league stats from Geneva, Winston-Salem, Pittsfield, and Iowa are displayed along with a full paragraph of his pro baseball history.
The manager of the Washington Nationals is a former Cubs bench coach – Dave Martinez. And long before his coaching career he was a Chicago Cubs player. Martinez was drafted by the Cubs in the third round of the January 1983 MLB Draft.
Another favorite among these twenty signatures is the one of Derrick May. Derrick is easily recognizable in the autograph, and its neat how he loops the “Y” in May.
Ken Reitz signed this 1983 Donruss card, and I was surprised by some of the trivia on the back of this card. Reitz won gold gloves as a Cardinals third baseman in 1975 and 1979. He also collected his 1,000th career hit on the same night Lou Brock reached the 3,000 hit milestone.
Tom Filer was originally a New York Yankee, but made his MLB debut with the Cubs in 1982.
It’s hard for me to not associate Darrin Jackson with his former broadcast Hawk Harrelson and hearing the two yell out, “Yessss” together after a White Sox home run.
Steve Engel was drafted by the Cubs in the fifth round of the 1983 MLB Draft, and debuted for Chicago in 1985.
Engel registered 11 games and 52 innings as a rookie Cubs pitcher.
What a great trade with Lennon. Autographs for autographs and it was a fun exercise reading the card backs and learning some new Cubs trivia.