June Returns

A good month. I’m continuing to work my 1986 duplicates and am moving into my 1988 duplicates as well while mixing things up with some random Giants. That I got a few 100+ day returns is also a lot of fun.

The first success of the month was a 34-day return from outfielder Billy Sample. Sample played primarily with the Rangers so this Yankees card represents the end of his career. He had a decent 9 years in the Majors with a couple particularly nice seasons such as 1983. I was sad to not have a Rangers card to send but it’s always nice to add another 1986.

Sample included a very nice note on this photocopy of his 1987 Sports Illustrated article (Sample’s post-playing career has seen him publish, broadcast, and get involved with filmmaking). It’s the last page of a particularly nice issue which focuses on a single day of baseball. Looking through the online copy hits me right in the feels since this is the baseball I grew up with.

While at one level, the way I’ve been hitting my 1986 duplicates is opportunistic, it’s been especially refreshing to remember what baseball used to be like when I fell in love with it. Cards serve as that entry point but everything about the process serves to remind me why I still care about the sport despite all the crap that Manfred and the owners are pulling to make me hate it now.

A 7-day return from Mark Thurmond added a very short-term Giant to the collection. Thurmond bounced around a bit but is primarily a Padre. He’s strictly a one-per signer otherwise I would’ve included a Padres card as well. This is his only Giants card and also represents my first signed 1991 Fleer card. Not a set I reach for but sometimes I have no choice.

Thurmond is noteworthy for the somewhat ignominious achievement of losing both games in a double header. This was on June 16, 1985 against the Giants in San Francisco. Thurmond started the first game and gave up 5 runs in 3 innings before being pulled for a pinch hitter in the top of the 4th. In the nightcap, the Padres tied the game in the 9th. Thurmond was brought out to pitch in the 12th inning only to surrender the winning run an inning later. A rough day for sure but the Padres bullpen must’ve been totally shot in the second game.

Willie Wilson was an established veteran by the time I became a fan (even playing for the A’s a bit) which means that he was one of those guys whose card backs caught my attention when I was first starting off in the hobby. Nothing like a back full of agate type and with the occasional bold-italics that signified someone led the league.

Wilson had a lot of bold italics in the triples column and his 1980 line also shows him leading the league in plate appearances, at bats, runs, and hits. His single-season record remains the second-highest number of at bats in a season and it was fun to get this card back in 10 days.

This is a fun one. Johnnie LeMaster wasn’t even a replacement-level shortstop but his stunt with the Boo jersey is the stuff of legend. It’s not his fault that he was the best shortstop the Giants had for like five years. I loved the story when I was a kid; reading about it now and finding out that he only wore it for an inning makes it even better. It’s a priceless bit of Giants memorabilia and it’s fantastic that he’s kept and treasures it.

When I came across a photo of him in the jersey I knew I had to make a custom. He kept an extra and sent the rest back in only 6 days.

I also included this post card in my request. This photo is also kind of stupidly amazing since he’s not the player I’d think of most for wielding a hot bat (although his 1983 season was probably the best of his career). The signed result means this return is one of the best ones I’ve gotten ever.

So this was kind of amazing. I sent a request to Mark Leiter on a Monday and it arrived back in my mailbox the following Thursday. The only way this could be any faster than 3 days is if he somehow mailed the cards out the same day he received them AND everything at the post office went perfectly.

Anyway, Leiter wasn’t a Giant long but he did win the Willie Mac Award and it’s always cool to add an autograph of one of those winners. He also added the 1996 Score card featuring him with both a camera AND his son for the quintessential mid-90s baseball card photograph. His son is actually playing in AA right now and if they were signing at Minor League games I’d seriously consider bringing this card to a Somerset-Erie game.

Fred Lewis is a guy I remember from the Barry Bonds years and I love the story about how he flew himself out to Barry Bonds’s number retirement and ended up as part of the ceremony. Definitely the kind of thing the Giants do well. It turns out that Lewis also has a very-nice looking signature which looks great on this card. He sent this back in 37 days.

A 20-day return from Kurt Kepshire brought my first 1986 of the month. I’m mostly finished with my duplicates so it’ll be interesting to see how many more come back. This is the 59th in the collection which is pretty good considering I’m not pursuing a signed set.

Kepshire had a decent rookie season in 1984, wasn’t as good in 1985, but then only appeared in two games in 1986. It’s always amazing to me how a guy can disappear out of the league that quickly.

Of course the day after I received the Kepshire return, I received my 60th 1986 return. This time it was Andre Thornton in 63 days. Thornton was sort of the only Cleveland star when I was a kid. There were some up and coming guys (Carter, Snyder, Butler, etc.) but Thornton was the only heavy hitter.

Jim Lindeman is another guy who I watched in the 1987 post season. Even though I hate the Cardinals, I can’t deny that that team also brings me back. I was happy to find a card of him with the Phillies as well and enjoyed getting these back in 11 days.

Al Worthington is a bit of  a TTM legend. One of those guys who returns quickly and sends lots of extras. He’s also one of the few remaining New York Giants out there so I was very happy to get these back in only 10 days.

Worthingon is an interesting character. A lot of the stuff he sends back is tract stuff but he’s noteworthy for basically quitting two teams (one of which was the Giants) because they were stealing signs and signaling the batters. As much as this kind of cheating has been going on forever, not many players had the spine to make a stand about it like Worthington did.

Mike Bordick is one of those names I remember from my youth in the Bay Area. He’d go on to try and fill Cal Ripken Jr’s shoes in Baltimore but it’s his time with the A’s which resonates with me. This is also a fantastic photo the likes of which we couldn’t even conceive in the hobby when I started collecting only a handful of years earlier and I was very happy to get it back in 68 days.

A 27-day return brought a second Willie Mac Award winner to my collection this month. This time it’s Marvin Benard who was a bit frustrating at times but was definitely a big part of the team in the late 1990s. He brings my total of Willie Mac Award Winners up to 18 (out of 40) which is pretty good for something I’m only building casually.

At 353 days, Gary Thomasson is now my third-longest return.* He had a decent career as a Giant before a flurry of trades in 1978 sent him all across the league. I really like his 1974 card because of the view of Candlestick in the background.

*Only Jim Willoughby at 494 days and Juan Gonzalez at 418 days are longer.

Thomasson though is most noteworthy for his two years in Japan. Not because of his baseball prowess there but rather the way he inspired the concept of a “Thomasson.” It’s a snarky term architecturally in that it implies that something is not only useless but expensively useless. But for photographers it’s actually something inspiring.

Thomassons are wonderful and evocative as they suggest both the past usage of a building and the way a building live as an entity of its own. As a photographer, they’re the kind of detail I’m always looking for and the kind of detail I love to see when others find them. I especially like the concept when it applies to old roads and rights of way which have been abandoned or repurposed.

Some cards just kind of resonate. Sammy Khalifa’s 1987 Topps card for example is one which a lot of guys my age remember. Kind of the perfect combination of an interesting name and photo to stand out as a memorable common in the set that introduced my collecting generation to the hobby. I still like the photo today in the way it’s somewhat distinct from other cards. I enjoyed writing the letter about this card and was just as happy to get it back in 96 days.

Khalifa himself is an interesting story. Besides  being the first MLB player of Egyptian descent, he also quit playing when his father was murdered by an extremist.

Four home runs in a game is a big deal. When I was a kid though it had only been accomplished twice since 1961, once by Mike Schmidt in 1976, the other by Bob Horner in 1986. As such, Horner was kind of a big deal to me in my nascent baseball fandom. Getting a 10-day return on a 1986 card no less is the perfect way to remember that.

A 9-day return from Mike Ivie added another 1981 card to the collection as well as a second KNBR Police card. There’s something especially fun about sending out team issued stuff—even stuff like this card which breaks most of my rules for what kinds of cards I like the get signed*

*awkward size plus facsimile sig in this case being two things that typically disqualify cards.

On the topic of facsimile autographs, this 10-day return from Dan Schatzeder is another example of why I break my rule against using these cards. Since this is his only Giants card—and it’s a stretch to call it a Giants card—I decided that I should send it. It’s a little crowded but it’s a fun addition to the Giants album. I actually didn’t realize he was a former Giant until I pulled his 1988 duplicate so I’m happy I even had this available.

I’m solidly into my 1988 duplicates now but this 106-day return from Mike  Birkbeck was one of the first to go out. Birkbeck is currently a baseball coach at Kent State and just completed a decent season over there.

Another 1988 duplicate. This time only a 12-day return from Keith Hughes. He had a short MLB career and bounced around with five different teams over four seasons. According to Wikipedia though he hit a grand slam in the bottom of the 10th inning to give Mayagüez the Puerto Rico Winter League championship.

An 8-day return from Davey Johnson brought a great 1986 Topps card to the collection. I wanted to send his Giants card but didn’t trust the mail. Instead I sent a 1986 and mentioned in my letter how that World Series was the first one I ever watched and represented when I really began to be a baseball fan. That he inscribed it with “86 WS Champs” suggests that he read my letter and that’s pretty cool.

Back to 1988 duplicates. Terry Leach was a 107 day return and I enjoy the difference between his 88 Topps and 89 Donruss photos. Leach bounced around a lot in his professional career but 1987 and 1988 were his statistical high points so it’s nice that these cards cover those seasons.

Orioles fan favorite Floyd Rayford came back in 16 days. The 1985 represents his best season (131 OPS+) and the 1988 is a career capper. One thing that’s been fun as I work my duplicates and pull cards of names I remember from my youth but who had pretty pedestrian careers has been noticing that even guys like Rayford whose overall stat lines are pretty basic (7 years, 1 WAR, 86 OPS+) tend to have one good, maybe even great, season.

Eric Bell’s 1988 card captures the only full season he played in MLB when he went 10–13 in 33 games for the Orioles. Not a good season but he was good enough enough to stick in a Major League rotation all year. His 1991 is kind of amazing in that he pitched 10 games in relief and racked up a 4–0 record and 0.50 ERA in 18 innings. I wonder why he didn’t pitch more that year. This request came back in 16 days.

The last couple returns this month are customs. The first one is the 2021 Burdick Award winner, Doug McWilliams. Since I wrote the SABR post I don’t have much more to say about Doug here except that as a photographer who formed his visual literacy in part through collecting cards, I am extremely appreciative of Doug’s work and how he’s been so open in discussion the conditions it was made in.

He sent me back a very nice note too. I’m looking forward to the official award presentation later this month as well. I should probably start working on my intro.

And the last return of the month is a super-fast 6-day return from Bill Mazeroski. I put an order of customs together since there were a bunch of guys I wanted to send to who I didn’t have cards of and it’s faster and cheaper to make customs than order what I want online now.

The Maz photo choice was obvious but I really like how the rest of he card came together and I love how it looks signed. A great sig and it’s placed perfectly. A great way to both end the month and step into the next one as I’ve sent out a bunch of new customs now.

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

3 thoughts on “June Returns”

  1. Love seeing so many names from my childhood. That Sample signed article with the note is cool. The fact that the article mentions he won’t miss autograph seeking kids makes it even cooler.

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