October TTMs

Finally got the pipeline refilled in September so I had decent hopes for October. Things started off a bit slower than I hoped but picked up as the month went along, culminating in a week-long streak of returns.

Sometimes you just have to send a fun photo. I missed this photo of Jeff Kunkel when I was building my Studio 91 set but saw someone else get it back. Thankfully I had a duplicate and 12 days later I had my own signed copy. Very cool.

While he did not answer my question about how many takes it took to get the perfect bubble he did provide his on tract card. Interestingly, his personal card depicts him with the Cubs even though he only played one season with the team.

A 10-day return from Pete Ladd added another 1986 Topps card to the collection. This is a typical 1986 portrait which I wanted to get signed as an example of the set. It’s kind of funny, I have 20 signed 1986s now with my most-represented teams being the Giants, Rangers, Brewers, and Orioles all with three cards each.

I avoid getting cards with facsimile signatures signed but since this is Rob Dressler’s only Giants card I decided to send it anyway. It looks better than I expected though this is partly because the action photo works better where he signed it rather than where Topps stripped his signature in. Still not my favorite look though I do enjoy adding my first signed 1977 to the collection in only 10 days.

A big 10-day return from Don Robinson added a great 1981 which features one of best-looking cap/border combinations where the cap has been designed to match the Pirates pillbox and the border is actually a team color. And another Mother’s Cookies card is always nice to add.

What made the Robinson return so great was these two signed copies of the Caveman photo that the Giants used on the cover of their gameday program. I’ve been in the process of scanning the covers of all the programs that I have for my youth and printed out the first batch recently. Where the programs are all magazines, I’ve been printing them as 3.5″×4.5″ “postcard” sized. This is a perfect size for TTM since they still fit in return envelopes but are still large enough to be more than just a card.

The Caveman photo is one of the ones I was most looking forward to getting signed too. Many of the cover images of my youth were fun photo shoots but this was one of the best. I’m super happy to be able to slide it into the autograph binder.

As I’ve been working on my Stanford customs, the only photo of Don Rose that I found was over at Gio’s When Topps Had Balls site. Thankfully Gio is a good guy and good follow and I asked him where he got the photo he just set me a jpg. Very cool and allowed me to make my custom and send it out. Rose didn’t keep any of the customs and sent them all back in 9 days.

I haven’t been actively collecting Giants manager autographs but when I got Felipe Alou’s earlier this year I realized that he meant I had an autograph from everyone who managed the Giants from 1981 to 2019 except Danny Ozark. A 10-day return from Dave Bristol takes me back to 1979 and takes me to 7 out of 10 for managers during my lifetime. Besides Ozark I’m missing Joe Altobelli and Gabe Kapler—so only four seasons-worth of managers.

This is also my first signed 1980 card which takes me closer to a different kind of collection. Where as a kid I wanted one Topps card from each year, I now almost have one signed Topps card from each year from 1957 to 1994.* Other than 1958 the years I’m missing are 1971, 1975, and 1982—all years where the set features facsimile signatures.

*Stopping at 1994 to give a fair comparison to my childhood project but the autograph streak peters out in the mid-1990s anyway.

Another fun photo and 1991 Studio return. This time though it’s two different cards with a great photo on the 1991 Leaf and a more-regular 1991 Studio. Greg Gagne is one of those guys I remember from my youth because the only baseball I ever got to watch on TV as a kid were the playoffs and Gagne played a pretty big role in those first few World Series I watched. This came back in only 8 days.

The surprise of the month was this 248-day return from Mike Yastrzemski. I sent to him in Spring Training and figured it was a stretch even then. Apparently he waited until after the season ended to catch up on fanmail. That his 2020 season was even better than his 2019 one makes this the return that has excited my kids the most as well.

I especially love that he chose to sign the custom card with Carl. When I send multiple customs to a player I include a note asking him to just sign his favorite. That he selected the card with his grandfather says a lot about what the highlight of his season was.

A 19-day return from Paul Runge added another fun 1986 Topps photo to the collection. This isn’t quite 1991 Walt Weiss level but these action shots at 2nd base which are shot from right behind 1st base are always a good look.

I’ve come to realize that building sets where the duplicates will look nice for autograph requests is the correct way for me to pick what sets to build. 1978 Topps, 1986 Topps, and 1991 Studio are all like this. 1991 Donruss not so much.

One of my favorite photos and one of the stories I remember reading about when I was a kid. Morganna was already a baseball legend by the time I became a fan and it was much much harder for anyone to get onto the field. I’ve been waiting and hoping that Topps would make an All Time Fan Favorites card of her but I don’t think it’ll ever happen. So I made my own and sent it off to her just for fun. She kept one and sent two back in 20 days.

When I was a young fan in the late 1980s Mark Gubicza was an absolute beast of a pitcher. As I’ve been working through my Studio duplicates his card jumped out at me since I still remember him as being that good. Funny how just a couple great years at the right time will make an impression on any fans who learned about the game those years. I was very happy to get these back in just 13 days.

Frank Tanana is another TTM legend so I knew what I had to do with my Studio duplicate. I also really like the 1991 Upper Deck photo. I didn’t get to watch Tanana pitch in his heyday but by the time I was a kid he was another of those guys who you knew about because he’d been a star in the past. When I was building my 1978 set he even had card number 600. Topps doesn’t assign those 100 numbers to just anyone.

Tru to his reputation he turned these around in 11 days and included his customary tract card. He seems to have been sending different versions of this tract for decades. I’ve seen multiple designs all featuring the same photo.

I touched on my trip to the 1990 College World Series in my Mike Mussina post but I didn’t mention how even though Stanford was eliminated my mom and I stayed around and watched the whole tournament including the championship game which is still Georgia’s only title.

Dave Fleming was the only future major leaguer on that Georgia team and he pitched a three-inning save in that championship game. I thought it would be fun to write him and mention how I watched him pitch 30 years ago. He sent back a very-quick 6 day return.

I actually kept score in that championship game* and ran around the celebrating Georgia players after the game to get the starting pitcher’s (hot prospect Stan Payne) and Coach Steve Webber’s autographs on my scorecard.** I remember having to peep for the outline of uniform numbers through their celebratory tshirts and kind of wanting to find Dave Fleming as well since the story of the game was the pitching performances.

*Yes I kept a pitch count back in 1990.

**Looking at the Oklahoma lineup shows Jeremy Burnitz and Danny Perez as two other future Major Leagers who played that day. 

I mentioned as much to Fleming in my letter and he sent back this nice note about how he ended up missing a lot of the fun due to being cornered by a reporter. It’s nice to add him to the collection now and I’m glad it gave me an excuse to pull my childhood scorebook out of storage.

I have a couple cards of Eric Heiden over in the COMC pile I’ve been building for about a year but with their shipping delays there was no sense in  requesting a shipment. Instead I whipped up a quick custom and was able to get that delivered much much faster. Heck, the custom creation, delivery and 24-day turnaround on signing was faster than the three months COMC would’ve made me wait.

Heiden of course is one of the best Olympians of all time. He also happens to be a Stanford graduate so he makes a nice addition to the project.

Eric Gunderson is one of those guys who I watched in San José and then get to see debut at Candlestick. He was only a Giant for a couple years but he put together a decent 10-year career. His return took 58 days and it’s always nice to get another Stadium Club signed since I don’t get them too often.

John Harrell represents one of the fun things about sending requests. I had a duplicate and figured it was worth looking up the players. I’d heard of Bernie Williams since he had a “Rookie Stars” card three years in a row but John Harrell was a guy I’d never heard of. Turns out he only played in two games in 1969 but had a good couple of days as he started, went 3 for 6 with 2 walks and an RBI. It’s always fun to find cup of coffee guys with great slash lines. HE was a quick turnaround too in only 10 days.

Another 10-day return brought second baseman Joe Strain. I figured it was worth trying a duplicate KNBR Police card since the light blue facsimile signature wasn’t too obvious and these kind of team issues are things I’m increasingly liking to send.

I had sent to Bill Swift pretty recently but I had to try again with my Giants Magazine covers. This isn’t as fun as the Don Robinson photo but it’s nice to get larger-sized items signed and I hope the players enjoy seeing something new which came from someone who attended games at Candlestick.

While I didn’t have U.L. Washington’s awesome 1981 Topps card with the best toothpick photo, I did have his 1984 card where the portrait shows off the toothpick. Washington was a decent player but his character and personality is the kind of thing that endures three decades later. I’m pretty sure a lot of kids in the 1980s tried playing ball with a toothpick in their mouth until their parents put a stop to it.

It’s fun to get autographs from characters like this and I was pleased to get these back in 19 days and add a bit of variety to my Giants-heavy 1984 and 1985 autographs.

I had put off sending to Sparky Lyle because I planned to get his autograph at Somerset one of these days. But the more I thought about things the more appropriate it felt to send him a request expressing regret for the way this year turned out and looking forward to next year. His response came back in a super-fast 6 days.

Looking at all the rumors, it’s possible that Somerset won’t even be independent baseball next year. Lots of talk about it becoming a Yankees affiliate and Trenton being demoted to Class A or getting a different franchise. I don’t like this new Minor League Baseball thing and I hope it leaves all my local teams relatively unscathed.

Tommy Greene also came back in a speedy 6 days. He’s one of those guys who I remember because his rookie hype and no hitter occurred during my formative years. He was only a Brave for a year but that’s actually the team I associate with him. I found myself wondering here how many times he’s signed his No Hit Club card. Even if it’s a standard request I suspect it never gets boring to be reminded that you threw a Major League no hitter.

I’ve received a couple Mothers Cookies cards from Brett Butler already but I figured it was worth sending another request to get this Giants Magazine cover signed. This is also not as fun as the Caveman photo but it’s a fun photo in its own right which exemplifies the fun style that the gameday programs of my youth had.

I couldn’t help but include a couple more cards including a 1991 Studio for my increasing collection of signed cards from that set. Butler is a great TTM guy and these came back in 28 days.

John Ramos was a bit of a stretch since his return history was both thin and discouraging. But I figured I’d give it a shot anyway since I’d made a custom for him with a photo I found in the Stanford Daily archives. Much to my surprise and pleasure he sent them back in only 14 days. Ramos only played in 10 games but he did bat over .300. He also is the 100th autograph subject I’ve added to my Stanford binder so that’s a fun milestone to acknowledge.

Another 14-day return is from Max Alvis and his ever-present chaw. His 1970 is one of the best examples of it and it’s a card and photo I’ve liked because of how it evokes a different age of baseball. Very nice to get some ink on it and add it to the album.

More cards with photos I like. Lenny Randle signed one of my favorite 1978 Topps cards in 8 days. Lenny is clearly an interesting guy who included the nickname he picked up when he was playing in Italy.

Randle also include a ton of extras including a fantastic Arizona State card and a photo of him blowing the ball foul when he was a Mariner. Calling yourself the “Most Interesting Man in Baseball” would normally get an eyeroll but Randle actually has a decent claim for that since weird stuff would just sort of find him on top of the fact that he’s led just an interesting life. It also looks like he’s almost out of stock of his biography.

Another 8-day return and another favorite card and photo of mine. The Giants SSPC cards are kind of boring but there are other really fun ones in the set. Doug Rader’s for example is classic and looks great signed. I also included a card from my youth but forgot to think about how a blue sharpie would look against the blue background. Whoops.

Last return of the month is Bill Bathe in 17 days. I sent him the Mother’s Cookies card and he sent me back a bonus 1990 Donruss. Bathe only played a couple of years but he was on the 1989 Giants postseason roster and even hit a home run in the World Series. As such he’s a name I recognize immediately and which brings me right back to that 1989 season.

Getting Bathe’s autograph takes me to having autographs from 22 of the 24 guys on the Giants 1989 postseason roster. I’m only missing Mike LaCoss and Kelly Downs. With regard to the full list of 45 guys who played that season I’m at 32 but the players on that list who didn’t make the postseason roster are pretty fringe.

So yeah a very good month in all. No real heavy hitters but a lot of fun photos and customs which helped temper the sense of impending doom that’s been settling into my chest.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at njwv.wordpress.com, and the web at vossbrink.net

67 thoughts on “October TTMs”

  1. So much to comment on… so little time. I’ll keep it to these two things:

    #1: I remember collecting those Giants Magazines. Ended up tossing them years ago, but I can still picture the one with Robby Thompson, Chris Brown, and Jose Uribe… that featured Brown standing on a Steve Caballero skateboard.

    #2: Sweet Morgana custom. She’s definitely memorable from my childhood as well.

  2. The best TTM month I’ve ever seen. So much quality and great thought behind the requests. Especially like the U.L., Morganna, Randle and Rader. I’d be jealous of the Tanana and Butler if I didn’t have autographs of both already.

    1. Thanks. I’ve had better months “on paper” with multiple Hall of Famers or big-name players but this one does encapsulate a decent amount of my TTM ethos of pursuing players/cards that are interesting to me.

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