2021 in review

A little late but still plenty of time to get my 2021 in review post out. Last year was a weird year. Nothing in stores. COMC not shipping (I finally got my shipment with over 2 years worth of cards right before Christmas). I even started to run out of things to post over on SABR. Usually I have close to fifteen posts. This year I needed a late flurry to get up to twelve.

In any case I’ll start off with a recap of the posts I especially liked over in SABR. First off, I wrote one of my favorite posts ever this year where I looked at the history of baseball cards as it fits into the larger history of photography and vernacular imagery. I’m too much a photo geek to not be annoyed by the way baseball card collectors ignore the larger context of the hobby and this was my attempt to provide some contex.

I also had some fun with more wiggle gifs as I scanned another set of Viewmaster discs. These aren’t as nice as my first such post but it’s always fun to do the wiggle gif thing. And I got to go down a bit of a rabbit hole into baseball at the 1912 Olympics thanks to a T218 card of a Track and Field Olympian.

Moving to specific projects of mine. I made a huge step in my Giants Retired numbers project with a couple purchases of autographs of Bill Terry, Carl Hubbell, Monte Irvin, and Willie McCovey—all players who I never really expected to have autographs of. I’ve gone ahead and put together a page to keep track of the current status of this project. I do not expect to update it very frequently. The cards/autographs I’m missing are all super tough and even updating the depicted cards to older ones is unlikely at this point.

Another project I decided to start tracking is my San Francisco Seals type collection. I went ahead and included Oaks cards from sets that don’t feature any Seals as a way of including more variety.

With that in mind I had a couple cards in my COMC pile which I’ve added. The 1930 Johnny Miljus Zeenut is the 5th Zeenut in the collection. It would be nice to get cards from other sets but Obaks aren’t cheap nor are the 1949 PCL Bowmans. Since there are no Seals in the 1933 Goudey set I grabbed the Floyd (Pete) Scott for Oakland Oaks reasons instead.

I did complete one set last year. Lanny gave me a heads up that he had a couple lower-grade copies of the last two cards I needed so I jumped on those. Yes. Lower grade for Lanny means the centering is off on an otherwise perfect-looking card. And yes I left the two big cards for last.

I know common wisdom is to hit the bigger cards first but since I like building sets to get to know the sets better, I don’t mind waiting until a deal comes up for the big cards. After all, they’re always available. The Murray is a fantastic photo and legitimate contender for both the best card in the set and the 1970s.

This leaves me one card short on two other builds—1994 Topps (Joey Cora. Totally gonna happen this year) and 2017 Stadium Club (Aaron Judge. No likely while his prices are still elevated). And for my other builds I’m ~85 cards short on 1989 Donruss and only 65% complete on 2014 Topps.

I made decent headway in my vintage Giants team sets. Being in a holding pattern of sorts where I need just Willie Mays, HoF rookies, and short prints (typically high numbers) I’m biding my time and picking things off when they hit an acceptably low price point.

I think my favorite here is the 1953 Bowman Monte Irvin but the 1961 McCovey is pretty nice too. The 1966 Mays meanwhile represents the kind of cheap low-grade card I’m waiting for now. I don’t mind the writing at all.

Which brings me to the past year in autograph hunting. Not much done in person since I only made it to like three Minor League games. I did however grab Jeff Manto and Derrick May at a Trenton Thunder Draft League game and got Casey Candeale at a Buffalo Bisons of Trenton AAA game. These were especially fun since all three are in the 1991 sets that my kids have. My eldest has been working on signed in-person 1991 Topps for a while while my youngest just started with 1991 Score.

This was a good year for TTMs. My longest return was Max Venable in 785 days. I don’t “give up” on returns but I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t a surprise. It’s always special to get a straggler back.

Meanwhile my shortest return was from Mark Leiter in only 3 days. Not sure I’m ever going to get one this quickly again. Pretty sure it’s impossible to get a faster one too.

I sent out a lot of customs this year and got most of them back. It’s been a very good year for the 1956ish design. Lots of fan favorite players. Lots of great photos. A few fun inscriptions. Impossible to pick a favorite and I had a hard enough time winnowing the samples here down to twenty.

Spring training was not nearly as good to me. Seems like Covid protocols kept a lot of guys from their mail. I did get a few Giants customs back at least. Tyler Rogers is probably the best of these—I remain confused how Topps hasn’t issued a solo card of him yet. Will be interesting to see how this year goes with the lockout but I’m not optimistic that I’ll be able to send anything right now.

A few Giants returns covering cards from across the decades. I’m kind of split between liking the George Foster or Renel Brooks-Moon best. Foster’s clearly the best player here though he barely counts as a Giant. Brooks-Moon meanwhile is a fan favorite whose whole return was probably my best of the year. Also I need to mention how great the Rick Parker photo is.

I just enjoy being able to flesh out the Giants binder in general though. Seeing it grow has been a great experience and writing the letters as a fan is also just a lot of fun.

A few other favorite returns this year. I’m not actively pursuing A’s but it turns out I got a lot of the guys from my youth. I didn’t like that team—mostly Tony LaRussa’s fault—but all those guys hit me in the feels now. Also a lot of guys here who fall into the “great players for a certain generation” category. A couple fantastic photos like Wynegar and Bordick, and an unexpected inscription from Davey Johnson which was perfect for me since the 1986 World Series was the first one I watched.

A lot of last year though was spent working duplicates from the cards from my youth. I’m not paging these by set in the binder—everything is alphabetically—but it’s fun to see a page-worth of each set that I’ve been working. I’m especially enjoying the photography on the 1986s.

1988 is a design that was underwhelming when I was a kid but which I really appreciate now. Its simple nature also works really well signed and lets the signature make the card.

1989 meanwhile is just a classic look. It’s missing the interestingness of he photos in 1986 but screams Baseball Card™ in a great way.

Not a ton of pre-war cards to mention. I have a few more that I need to scan and even more I still need to post about but I got some of my oldest cards in general,  a couple sets about polar exploration, and some more Garbatys. As the hobby has exploded, the pre-war deals I used to enjoy have started to dry up. Hopefully I’ll still find a few but we’ll see.

And that about wraps it up. A productive year despite everything. The kids have managed to stay engaged—thanks in part to the Giants having a season to remember. I haven’t been able to share the hobby as much with them as in previous years but we’re working on it.  I’m hoping that we finally turn a corner in 2022. Stay safe out there.

Addendum

As soon as this posted I realized that I had neglected to include a section about all the trades and maildays I received last year. I’m not going to recap every one since here are way too many but I do need to show the highlights.

A big thanks goes out to Donna, Mike, Scott, Jeff, Gio, Julie, Greg, John, Shane, Attic, Bob, Marc, Mark, Mark, Jason, Kerry, Shlabotnik, and everyone else who sent me stuff last year. I really love the variety and in a year when access to product was way down, being able to brighten people’s lives with trades and random gifts was fantastic.

We all tend to get caught up in tying our hobby enjoyment to what we can buy. I don’t think this is healthy either mentally or financially. It’s so much better to scratch those itches as a community and get cards that we aren’t enjoying to the right people who will enjoy them much much more.

Retired Numbers

Just over a year ago before everything got shut down I visited Queens to see Ralph Carhart’s Home Base exhibition. While the show was good, as was getting to met Ralph and Mark Hoyle, one of the things that I didn’t discuss anywhere was how Ralph showed us some images of a massive collection that he had been cataloging and preparing for sale.

He’s since blogged about the collection on SABR and watching his journey down the rabbit hole of awesomeness has been a lot of fun. Earlier this month he reported on Twitter that the auction houses had picked through everything and he had a ton of index cards available for sale. So I took a look and there was a lot to covet.

Being disciplined, I remembered a goal that I had mentioned when Jason sent me a Bill Terry card for Christmas and started off looking for Giants retired numbers as a supplement to my goal of getting a playing-days card of every Giants retired number. Lo and behold, Ralph had three that I was missing and so I placed an order.

A few days later the cards arrived and I was very happy.* It’s not just autographs but the fact that I feel like I learned about them before almost anyone else and how they serve as kind of the perfect way for me to mark a year of pandemic living.

*As were my kids since one of the first things they noticed at their first Giants games was the line of retired numbers posted in the stadium.

It also means that I have enough material to put a post together of my Giants retired numbers. This isn’t a comprehensive list of what I have. For each player I’m showing the oldest playing-days card I have and his autograph.

NY—Christy Mathewson, John McGraw

No cards here and autographs are completely outside the realm of consideration (I’m not sure I’ve even seen a picture of a McGraw signature). Heck their cards are also pretty much a pipe dream. Both of their T205s and T206s are some of the nicer ones in the sets and both of them remain pretty big fish in the pool of pre-war stars.

3—Bill Terry

Both of these are total shocks. Still. The National Chicle card is a beauty and great example of a playing-days card. The index card is from the Gould collection and is a great clean version of his signature.

4—Mel Ott

Not as hard to get cards of as McGraw and Matthewson but still very much in demand. Ott is another guy whose signature I can’t recall ever seeing as well.

11—Carl Hubbell

Very happy to have his signature on an index card. Like Ott his cards are still in high demand.

20—Monte Irvin

Irvin’s cards are surprisingly not too spendy. Only his rookie cards seem to be tough. I haven’t ventured into any of his 1952s yet but I can actually see that happening.I actually have a signed card of his on my COMC pile which will show up some day once I get around to requesting it.

22—Will Clark

Still boggles my mind how expensive that 1986 card was when I was a kid in the Bay Area in the 1980s. I think I’ve encountered enough of them in the past couple years in trade packages that both of my kids have copies now. And the autograph is an in-person one which I’ve blogged about already.

24—Willie Mays

Story about the card is on the blog. The autograph is one that my mom got in spring training. The only time she took advantage of her media pass was to get this. And yeah it was worth it.

25—Barry Bonds

Is interesting that Barry is the only retired number who didn’t debut with the Giants. So I went with his oldest Giants card instead of his oldest card for this post. I honestly forgot I had this until I started witing. My complete sets aren’t something I’ve looked though as much as my team binders.

The photo meanwhile is one my mom took in 1993 and when I got it signed in 1994. I wish we had had silver sharpies back then but I really like that this is truly one of a kind.

27—Juan Marichal

Marichal is going to start a trend where my oldest card is the oldest card which is neither a rookie nor a high number card. I don’t have any of the Hall of Fame rookie cards and Marichal is a high number in 1962 and 1963. Which makes 1964 my oldest card. His autograph is one of the first TTM requests I wrote.

30—Orlando Cepeda

I’ve a decent run of Cepeda cards. I’m just missing his rookie. And I’ve blogged about his autograph before.

36—Gaylord Perry

I know, this looks like a rookie card but it’s not. His 1962 is the one that costs a lot. This floating multi-head card isn’t the prettiest card out there but many of Perry’s cards are pretty dire. Topps was not particularly kind to him until the 1970s. The story about the ball is one of my favorites on the blog.

44—Willie McCovey

And finally the last index card from the Gould collection. McCovey is like Marichal with an expensive rookie card followed by high numbers until 1964.

Looking forward, Bruce Bochy is totally going to get his number retired some day (or at least he should). I hope it’s sooner rather than later but my guess is that the Giants are waiting for the Hall of Fame to make the first move. Besides, they technically haven’t had Will Clark’s ceremony yet so once they do that this summer we’ll see what happens.

Childhood brain explode

I mentioned this in my January returns wrap up but it deserves to be its own post. Where my childhood collecting goal was to get one card from every set, I’m fast approaching a place where I’ll accomplish my childhood goal with autographed cards. This hasn’t been an explicit project or anything it’s just been mostly organic growth as a result of my autograph hobby.

Taking a look at Topps right now. As a kid I had cards from 1960–1994 (minus 1965). Right now? 1957–1997 minus 1971, 1975, 1982, and 1996—three years with facsimile signatures and one that’s past my childhood window.

I don’t like the facsimile signature thing but the double signature doesn’t look awful in the 1959, 1967, and 1977s here. I do like that my 1980 card is a non-facsimile card and I’ll likely find a way to get the three years I don’t have. I also expect to gradually add more-recent cards to this. I have a decent number of 1997 but there’s multi-year gap before I get to them.

It’s fun to see a sample of everything all together so I figured I’d do this with the other flagship brands from my youth.

Donruss is one where I have a sample from 1981–1993. No 1994s. Go figure. I don’t usually pick Donruss designs for autograph requests although 1986–1989 tends to feature decent photos. The printing though is frequently super dark and not the best for showing off a signature.

Fleer is a better autograph card. Even 1982 with its disastrous photography frames things pretty nicely. I just haven’t been able to bring myself to get 1991 signed and for some reason haven’t gotten any 1993s either. Everything else from 1981–1994 is here though.

I’ve also gone ahead and done the rest of the Fleer run since there are no multi-year gaps here. Post-strike I’m just missing 1995, 1998, and 2001 which brings me to missing five years total from the 1981–2003 run.

Score is the first manufacturer where I have a complete run of examples even extending past my childhood collecting. It’s helped by only starting in 1988 but I have signed cards from there through 1995. I frequently like how Score signs although I shy away from the 1992 design.

Upper Deck, especially the 1990–1993 run, is a other favorite of mine. Like Score I have samples into 1995. Unlike Score, that Upper Deck rivals Topps as the card of record up until 2010 means I have a decent shot of carrying the run forward. Upper Deck’s designs have also meant that, like Fleer, I’ve accumulated a decent number of autographed samples for the post-strike years too. For the run from 1989–2007, I’m missing just 1996, 2000, and 2005.

As I said at the beginning, this isn’t something I’m doing on purpose. But it’s definitely something that’s a lot of fun to keep track of. My childhood brain wasn’t even able to conceive of accomplishing something like this and in this hobby it’s always good to remind myself to keep that sense of wonder in mind.

To Be Eleven Again

A recent post from Night Owl coupled with my Bill Bathe return in October has me thinking about the equivalent Giants team from my youth which I truly followed all the way through the postseason. Where Greg chose the 1977 Dodgers, for me it’s the 1989 Giants who represent my peak youth fandom.

No surprise that we are both eleven years old for these teams. There’s something magical about that age when you’re old enough to truly geek out out about sports while still being young enough that all the other distractions haven’t materialized yet. When you’re eleven you have an allowance—or at least birthday/holiday money—with nothing to spend it on except for what you want. It’s a great year to follow sports and collect cards.

This was also a magical year for me because of our Philadelphia trip. I didn’t just get to know the players as players, I learned how to recognize them in their civvies and got to meet most of them in person. This also gave me a massive head-start on putting to together a complete roster of signed cards.

For example, the starting lineup* are all guys I met in Philadelphia. The Roger Craig and Terry Kennedy cards are later acquisitions since they’re on my team ball but every other card is an in-person signature that I got when I was eleven. Of these nine, Kennedy is the only one who doesn’t count as a fan favorite.

*Organized as I described in my mission creep post.

Yes even though we booed Brett Butler once he went to the Dodgers, I think we all still prefer to remember him for the good years he had in San Francisco.

The pitching staff wasn’t as simple to assemble. Garrelts, Robinson, and Lefferts are from Philly while Reuschel, Hammaker, and Brantley are other in-person experiences.* There are also three notable pitchers missing. Kelly Downs and Mike LaCoss are the only two players on the postseason roster whose autographs I don’t have and Randy McCament is the only other pitcher who appeared in over twenty games

*I have an in-person Trevor Wilson too but I couldn’t not use that 1990 Upper Deck for this post.

Of these, Gossage is the only one who I forget was a Giant. The rest are all memorable even if they only played with the team a short while like Bedrosian.

Filling in the rest of the post-season roster. Gossage and Wilson weren’t on it despite appearing in a decent number of games that season so these last seven (a mix of in-person and TTM returns) take my total to 22 out of 24 players from the post-season roster (just missing Downs and LaCoss as stated earlier).

Of these seven are guys like Earnie Riles who was the third baseman for the first half of the season until Matt Williams became a star. Despite Williams’s emergence, Riles actually played more games at third. Sheridan and Nixon meanwhile both played a lot of games in the outfield, Manwaring was the backup catcher, and Oberkfell, Litton, and Bathe were among the standard pinch hitters.

The last eight cards here join Gossage and Wilson on the list of players who appeared with the Giants in 1989 but who didn’t go to the playoffs. A fun mix of players. Fan favorite veterans like Speier, Krukow, and Brenly whose careers I didn’t get to see but who I saw enough of to learn why the fans loved them. Prospects like Benjamin, Mulholland, and Cook who I remember for their potential. A veteran rental like Joe Price. And of course the incomparable Dave Dravecky who only played in two games but provided both the highlight and the lowlight of the season.

So this means I have 32 out of 45 players* who appeared for the Giants that season. Notable players I’m missing are Tracy Jones and Ed Jurak, both of whom appeared in at least 30 games. The other eight players played anywhere from two (Stu Tate and Russ Swan) to 17 (Mike Laga) games and include a couple names like Jim Steels and Jim Weaver who I not only don’t remember, I don’t even recognize them at all.

*The complete list of missing players: Mike LaCoss, Kelly Downs, Randy McCament, Tracy Jones, Ed Jurak, Mike Laga, Bob Knepper, Ernie Camacho, Jim Steels, Jim Weaver, Charlie Hayes, Stu Tate, and Russ Swan.

One of the reasons I’ve not been a completist about this is that a few of the down-roster guys don’t resonate for me and the point of a project like this is the memories that it does bring back. Settling on just the postseason roster plus whoever feels right is fine.

The feels right concept is why I’m happy to have all but one of the coaching staff from that year as well. Not sure why I knew who al the Giants coaches were but I did. Things were simpler then, just 5 coaches—hitting, pitching, bench, 1st base, 3rd base—and nothing like the current team* where I can’t keep anything straight.

*In addition to the bench, 1st base, and 3rd base coaches, there are two hitting coaches, a director of hitting, a pitching coach, an assistant pitching coach, a director of pitching, two bullpen coaches, and two other assistant coaches.

The only coach I’m missing is Norm Sherry. Also it’s a shame that Wendell Kim never had a proper baseball card. He’s on a couple Mother’s Cookies coach cards but aside from a few minor league issues he never got his own.

Will these ever get framed like Night Owl is doing? Not a chance. But one reason I like scanning everything is that I can mix and match sorting  and put things into posts like this or just have a dedicated category for the 1989 autographs. I can throw something together digitally, see all the guys again, and remember that 1989 season when I was the age my eldest son is now. I hope he’s able to have a team next year which is as memorable to him as mine was to me.

Will Clark

Will Clark 1987 Topps

While Will Clark was overshadowed by Kevin Mitchell at the time, this is now my favorite signed card from my Philadephia trip. Yes I have a good story with the Mitchell card, but the Will Clark experience is funnier.

Well, funnier in hindsight. Of all the players whose autographs I was trying to get that trip, Clark was probably the most intimidating. As intense as he was on the field, he kind of gave off that intensity off the field too. In short, he was an asshole. But he was my team’s asshole.

So it’s funny now picturing the kid all kitted up in Mets gear who Clark met with an “I don’t like the Mets” comment.* Poor guy visibly blanched and panicked. And it’s funny thinking about the poor lobby clerk who didn’t recognize him so instead of showing his ID he brusquely called a kid over to the desk, curtly held the baseball card up, signed it and gave it back to the nervous but jubilant kid.

*Note, Clark still signed for him.

I took that he smiled at me because I was kitted up in Giants gear* as a sign that I was doing everything right.

*Knowing what I know about Philadelphia fans now I should probably have a conversation with my mom about this.

 

Will Clark

It also helps that I never got another Clark signature over years of effort. The more I tried for another card or ball the more I appreciated the one I had. Still, I did get the ball as a gift years later. No idea from where or who actually but I’m reasonably sure it’s legit.

The further I’ve aged away from my childhood collecting days the more I’ve realized that I’m a Will Clark fan. He was the guy for all the teams of my youth. My first game was on 1986 when he’d burst onto the scene. And the 1994 strike means that my last true childhood season was that wonderful 1993 season with its heartbreaking pennant race. By the time I returned to the game the Giants were Barry Bonds’s team and, while I was still a fan my feelings are much more complicated about those seasons.

But with Will every card or bit of memorabilia reminds me of being a kid. I love that I have had* a 1989 Mitchell and Ness Clark jersey. And I love that I have a burgeoning Will Clark player collection of baseball cards. It’s not a comprehensive gotta-have-them-all collection but I’m adding to it as I come across issues I’ve not seen or heard of.

*Between the date I wrote this post and the day I actually published it my Will Clark jersey got stolen.

Hank Aaron

Hank Aaron

The funny thing about missing Hank Aaron in while I was getting Kevin Mitchell’s autograph was that I had absolutely nothing for him to sign anyway. I mean I guess I could have gotten it on my Giants-branded baseball but that would’ve been all kinds of wrong. It was only after getting all the Old Timers signatures on hotel stationery and having filled up the Giants ball that I managed to talk my mom into buying a brand-new National League baseball.

Getting that ball probably cursed my autograph hunting for that trip since it was the transition between being satisfied at getting most of what I brought signed to wanting more more and MORE. Hank Aaron became my goal for the rest of that weekend. I came close a few times but repeatedly failed. When it became clear that I wasn’t going to get his signature I started to sorry about “wasting” my baseball and wanted to get it signed by anyone.

This is about the point where my mom yanked me out of the hotel and walked me down to the Philadelphia Mint. The walk was long enough to cool down and get a talk—not a lecture, just a talk—about obsession and how easy it is to get greedy and lose track of things. I’d been ecstatic just getting Donell Nixon’s signature only a day or so earlier. Now I was all upset about wasting a new baseball because I had no more room on the previous one. And the Mint was cool I also collected coins (naturally) and so seeing how they were made and buying a proof set cheered me up.

Anyway, two years later my mom accompanied me to a card show, purchased a Hank Aaron baseball, and managed to hide it from me both throughout the show and until Christmas. I’d sort of forgotten about the Philadelphia experience but she noticed that I’d learned my lesson and figured that I’d put enough legwork in trying to get Aaron’s autograph that I deserved one.