August Returns

Continuing with customs and my junk wax dupes. The more customs I get back the more I’m inspired to make more of them.

First return of the month was Kent Hrbek in 34 days. Those Minnesota Twins World Series winners were pretty prominent in my early baseball fandom and Hrbek in particular is one of the players I remember most. I couldn’t help but make a card of the play where he pulled Ron Gant off the base. It’s definitely a moment that stands out to me today and I kind of love how it’s become a thing between Braves and Twins fans on Twitter.

While I was expecting a decent number of customs back, I was not expecting this 282 day return from Chad Hutchinson. I chose to make a football version of the 1978 Topps template I’m using for Stanford Alumni. This was partly because he had a longer NFL career and patly because I wanted to challenge myself to expand on the template. I did however include both his MLB and NFL stats on the back.

Another custom, this time from Padres slugger Nate Colbert in 44 days. when I was growing up, his five home runs in a double header was one of those feats that either really made an impression on me or which got mentioned an awful lot in the books I was reading. Either way, despite him being somewhat forgotten now he’s one of those guys who resonates for me.

While Tito Fuentes was one of my first TTM requests, I figured it would be fun to send him a custom. He’s one of my favorite characters and as I mentioned in my previous return from him, was the Spanish-language announcer who I listened to when I was learning Spanish as a kid.

Fuentes is a good TTM signer and sent these back in 10 days. He also sent me a great note which encapsulates why I enjoy sending customs out so much. It allows me to give a little something to the players and it’s clear that many of them appreciate the gesture. Hrbek, Hutchinson, and Colbert all kept at least one custom as well.

I’m not sure if there’s another player like Dave Parker who has so many cool portraits. I put two together on this custom and was very happy to get it back in 45 days. I hope he enjoyed the custom as well since he kept the two extras.

Ted Kubiak took part in SABR’s Burdick Award ceremony for Doug McWilliams. I sent him a quick note thanking him for his participation and he sent my card back in 22 days. Given that this card is shot at Candlestick it’s a decent bet that McWilliams took the photo.

Kubiak sent me a separate envelope with four more signed cards. I would’ve liked to have sent him an A’s card but I only had his 1968 and it was asking for a face sign. I won’t complain about getting extras as a bonus though. I much prefer having him in the binder as an A and the 3x World Series  inscription is a nice touch.

Another fun return. Yes I’ve sent to Al Hrabosky before but I wanted to try and get the “Mad Hungarian” inscription this time. I didn’t ask but I sent a much-more-obvious photo in the custom. He didn’t keep any but sent them all back in 9 days.

My first 1988 return of the month was Tim Stoddard in 15 days. He had a nice 13-year career which ended around 1988 but I wasn’t able to find any earlier cards of his in my collection (I have some in sets but I’m not pulling those out for TTM). 1988 always looks good signed though.

A quick 9 day return from Bill Landrum brought the first 1991 Studio back in a long time. These always look nice signed although they tend to scan a bit dark. Landrum played for 8 years in the National League during my peak Giants fandom. His longest stint was with the Pirates and it turns out that that’s where all my duplicates are too.

I had to make a Juan Marichal custom since none of his cards really capture his leg kick to my satisfaction. I was very happy to get this in 18 days. I’m curious how much longer he’s going to be signing too since his signature has gotten a lot shakier than it was two years ago. It’s not bad yet but thw writing is on the wall.

A 13-day return from Maury Wills brought another signature from a guy who’s probably not going to be signing much longer. As with Marichal you can kind of see where things are going. Still, Wills is one of those great players who I always forget is not in the Hall of Fame. When I was growing up during in the 1980s, the historical path which led to Vince Coleman and Rickey Henderson began with Wills establishing the stolen base as a legitimate offensive weapon. It’s possibly the part of baseball I miss the most now.

I’m starting to get into my 1989 duplicates and after 16 days, Mark Parent is the first of them to return to me. I like his catchers’ pose on the 89 and it’s nice to have a different team on his Stadium Club card. For a light-hitting catcher he put together a pretty nice 13-year career.

A 32 day return from Blas Minor brought my first 93 Fleer Ultra to the collection. These cards look nice signed, I just don’t have a bunch of them. Minor has an interesting inscription too. It’s a nice-sounding bible verse* though zooming out and seeing that the context is specifically about the behavior of slaves takes some of the shine off of it.

*“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”

One of my favorite returns of the month. I sent a 2010 Topps Giants Franchise History card to Renel Brooks-Moon because I realized that it would be fun to add her to the binder. She’s been the voice of he Giants for over 20 years now and is as much a part of the experience of attending a game at Pac Bell Oracle as the product on the field. I’m glad that my kids both had their first MLB experiences in San Francisco and that she’s the voice they heard and imprinted on for what a Major League game should sound like.

19 days later, I received a small manilla envelope with a San Francisco Giants return address. At first I was a bit confused and was trying to remember what I’d ordered directly from them. The I realized it was probably Renel’s return. Inside was my card but also a lot more. The 2020 Opening Day card was a fantastic addition since I think it’s the only official card she’s ever gotten. But there was also signed photo and a nice note.

The photo is ~5″×7″ and looks to be the same photo session that Topps used. It got beat up a little in the mail but it’s still great. I love the Go Giants inscription as I’m not used to getting returns from fellow fans. And it’s always nice to be thanked for the letter.

A 75 day return form Len Matuszek brought another 1988 to the collection. His 1984 is a nice add since, not only do I not have many of those (signed or otherwise), it represents his best Major League season as well sinc ethat was the year he took over after Pete Rose left the Phillies.

An 11 day return from Steve Rosenberg on another 1989 duplicate. While I’ve started sending these out, I haven’t gotten as far into them as I expected to. It’s another nice and simple design that takes a signature well and I’m looking forward to increasing my variety even with guys like Rosenberg who only played a couple years at the peak of my card collecting youth.

The last return of he month was an 11 day return from Andre Dawson on a custom. Finishing me off where I started with my seventh 1956ish (or as someone on Twitter pointed out, also 1960ish) custom of the month. These all look great and Dawson’s signature on this one is especially nice.

Next month looks to be light since I’ve not sent out much in August. Maybe once the kids go back to school I’ll get some more out. Fingers crossed that there’s no COVID complications as school gets roaring back into session.

July Returns

A decent number of customs coming back this month plus a bunch of guys from my childhood as I work through my 1988 duplicates.

The first return of the month was a 15-day return from Tom Poquette who unfortunately never got a chance to endorse Motel 6. Jokes aside (and they’re impossible to avoid) he was a decent player for the Royals and demonstrates one of the interesting things about the TTM hobby in that requests and returns have a tendency to interact in unexpected ways. In this case, Willie Wilson’s emergence is what spelled the end of Poquette’s Royals days.

Frank DiPino is one of those names from my youth. As a Giants fan it’s the National League guys who I rally got to be familiar with. DiPino fits that bill between being a somewhat distinct name and a NL guy who, by being a reliever, I’m pretty sure I saw in person even if I don’t remember any highlights. I don’t usually use 1990 Donruss for requests but it works well with a red-colored team like the Cardinals. This came back in 11 days.

Another 11-day return brought the first 1994 Donruss to the collection. I just don’t have many of those since it came at the end of my time in the hobby but after pulling a 1988 duplicate I figured I’d look through the rest. Bill Wegman was a Brewers lifer who pitched for 11 years and put together a nice respectable body of work.

Ken Schrom was an All Star in 1986. His stat line shows a 91 ERA+ that year so it must’ve been slim pickens over in Cleveland. I like that I was able to hit two of my childhood sets and get two different teams here. The photos are also pretty good—both cards are good representatives of their years. They came back in 53 days.

Bob Gallagher was one of the first people I set to a couple years ago but I had yet to send him a custom for the Stanford Album. He kept two and sent one back in 10 days. I’m up to two dozen different subjects in that set and every new one I get back is a lot of fun.

This was a fun one. I’d previously sent to Bobby Shantz and Frank Thomas but hadn’t sent to Bob Veale despite him being the best part of my Old Timers story. I finally put a custom together and sent them out with a letter thanking him for being so cool to a ten year old kid who had no idea who he was. 10 days later I got a couple customs back and a couple notes as well.

Two notes is interesting. Veale continues to be a good guy and it sounds like he appreciated my memories of him. I like the 1971 World Series Champions tag and I couldn’t help but smile at him trading me one of his cards for one of mine. It’s always fun to find a player who collects.

The card that he sent me in exchange for one of my customs (I usually send three and only ask for one to be signed) is a 1960s era Pirates team issue which I understand were used to giveaway for getting autographs on. It’s got a big Giant Eagle logo on the back for the full local tie-in* and is definitely one of the cooler player-provided photos I’ve gotten even though I don’t recognize Veale without the glasses.

*Giant Eagle is a Pittsburgh grocery chain.

Amos Otis is another of those players who I remember learning about when I was a kid. He had a good career in the 1970s and is definitely one of those definitive 1970s players who make a good fit for my customs project. I was happy to get these back in just 8 days.

Not sure if this was a thank you note for the extra customs but maybe it is. In any case, it’s always nice to get a note back from a player.

A couple more customs, this time Luis Tiant in 14 days who didn’t keep any extras. The 1956ish design is obviously the main one I’m working on but the black border is based on my Giants customs for this year and is proving to be a versatile one for images that don’t fit my main custom design.

Tiant is of course on of those guys who every fan from the 1970s loves and, despie no being in the Hall of Fame, is clearly someone who everyone would embrace being enshrined. I got his autograph on a ball decades ago but it’s nice to add a few cards to the collection too.

Mike Matheny is the current Royals manager but he also had a brief stop in San Francisco 15 years ago. Not long enough to make an impression on most people but I do remember him playing in those weird years when Barry’s career was ending and it wasn’t clear what the Giants’ next identity would become. He did however end up becoming the first Giants catcher to win the Gold Glove Award while he was in San Francisco.

I sent him in the beginning of the season when the Royals were doing well with a .600 record after April. Unfortunately, 67 days later when I got this, the Royals had kind of fallen off the pace with an abysmal June in which they only won 7 games.

A 14 day return from John “Blue Moon” Odom brought another custom back to me. Odom has one of the all-time great nicknames and is also a bit of a Bay Area legend due to his time with the A’s in the 1970s.

Paul Assenmacher was kind of the definitive LOOGY as he pitched in 884 games over 14 seasons but only amassed 855.2 innings pitched. I remember seeing him pitch at Candlestick before he fully became the one-out guy and it was nice to get these back in 42 days.

Sometimes you just find a good photo. I’m a sucker for these multiexposure action images and really like how they end up looking on customs (Tiant above and Elroy Face a while ago). So I sent this out to Guidry and was very happy to get it back 20 days later.

Joe Sambito is a guy I remember from my youth but never realized how good he was in the late 1970s and early 1980s. As much as I studied card backs, I was not too smart about relief pitching and wouldn’t have recognized how dominant his 1979 season in particular was. The 22 Saves doesn’t look like much but the 1.78 ERA in 63 games and 91 innings is a lot more impressive. I was happy I had an Astros card to send in addition to his 1988 card and was pleased to get them back in 8 days.

A 10 day return from Don Gordon brought another 1988 duplicate to my collection. Gordon included this very nicely made custom card which confused me for a moment because I thought it was a real Big League card and couldn’t remember sending such a card out.

Gerald Young was one of those guys who was full of promise when I was  a kid. He never panned out but he’s definitely one of those names that I remember. I don’t like the outsize influence that prospecting has in the hobby but there is something about the rookies who were big when I was a kid and whose entire careers I was looking forward to watching. These two came back in 30 days and I was very happy to get them.

I sent another request to Frank Thomas because I wanted to thank him for his Christmas Card 9 days. I put a custom card together from his time with the Pirates and another SABR member asked if he could order a couple hundred for Frank. So I took care of that and sent him a couple hundred to keep in addition to my request.

As usual I got a nice letter back (in only 9 days!) written in his miniscule handwriting. This time I need to send him a letter back though since he asked me some questions about the custom cards.

One of the things I especially liked about the 1988 set are the Team USA cards in the Traded set. Some of this is because of the number of Stanford guys in the set but I also just like the way Topps did the text. For whatever reason I had an extra Billy Masse card so I sent it out since I enjoy getting them signed. He never played in the Majors but an official Topps card is an official Topps card. 51 days later it came back and I got to add my 6th card (and 5th different member) of the 1988 Gold Medal winners.

Moving to customs. This time a 12 day return from Wade Boggs who signed all three cards despite my asking for him to only sign one. I love the chicken photo and one thing that I love best about making customs is how I can pick photos that you don’t usually see on cards.

Steve Garvey, like Boggs, also sent back all three cards in 12 days. This is a great photo which Getty has tagged incorrectly as Garvey scoring in a game in Dodger Stadium instead of the play at Yankee Stadium where the umpire blew the call and called him out. Still, the photo is fantastic and everyone of the right age who sees this card on Twitter (even Yankee fans) responds with “Garvey was safe.”

Back to my 1988 duplicates. Bob Kipper, as a middle-relief guy for the Pirates, is another of those guys who I probably saw pitch at Candlestick at some point. I’m really enjoying the look of the 1988 cards signed and was very happy to add another one in 14 days.

Vida Blue is a Bay Area legend for his time with both the Giants and the A’s as well as his continued involvement as a Giants community representative. I got his autograph on a ball during Spring Training decades ago but wanted to make a custom of him as well. These came back 17 days after I sent them. Should I have made an A’s custom? Probably. But I’m a Giants fan first and foremost.

Denny McLain is a guy who I made customs of because I didn’t have a card. His 1968 season was the stuff of legend when I was a kid and has only gotten more amazing since whatwith how the game has become so bullpen dominated. I sent these out the same day as Vida Blue and got them back the sam day as well for a bit of fun kismet in that they’re two members of the exclusive club of players who won both the Cy Young and MVP awards in the same season.

McLain didn’t keep any customs but instead gave me different inscriptions on each of them as well as signing the backs.

A fun one to go into the weird section of my binder. I love the Sidd Finch story/joke. It was fun to read about when I was a kid and it remains a the gold standard of April Fools jokes in sports even today. Joe Berton is the guy in the famous Sidd Finch photo which in many ways became the most iconic part of the story. I figured it would be fun to make a Finch card and send it to Berton. 28 days later I got two nicely-inscribed cards as well as a note thanking me for the copy he kept.

Kevin Frandsen is currently one of the Phillies broadcasters but I remember him as on of those fun examples where a local kids ends up being drafted and playing for his local team. He grew up in the Bay Area, went to high school in Santa Clara, college in San José, got drafted by the Giants, played minor league ball in San José and Fresno, and finally ended up in an Francisco. Very very cool. I sent this to the Phillies ballpark and he sent it back in 67 days. It’s a fun photo and his signature works really well with it.

A 27-day return from Cy Young Award Winner Randy Jones brought back my first Padres customs. Jones is one of those guys who I remember learning about as a kid but just hadn’t managed to get a card of. Customs to the rescue. Jones signed two and kept one but he signed each one differently which is kind of interesting.

The last return of the month is a new longest return for me. I sent to Max Venable back in May 2019. 785 days later his return showed up at my parents’ house. It looks like he moved some time between my request and his return since the return came from a completely different state. Venable started with the Giants and hung around the majors for a dozen years.

And that’s it for July. A very good month indeed and I’ve still go a few customs pending to look forward to in August.

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.

May Returns

No mail today so there’s no sense in waiting to publish this post next week. May was a decent month as I mostly worked through my childhood duplicates. But I did pick up a few fun bigger-name players.

Let’s start off with a couple signatures from guys who were a big deal in my childhood. Jeff Reardon was one of the best closers around before LaRussa and Eckersley completely changed the position.

I didn’t send a Twins card even though he was a part of that 1987 World Series Championship since I didn’t like any of the options available to me. I did however like the photo on his 1987 and I’ll always send a 1991 Studio card if I can. I was very happy to get these back in only a dozen days.

Howard Johnson was even a bigger deal than Reardon. Besides the fact that he used to kill the Giants, he also was one of the guy whose inserts and special cards I always used to pull. I’d want a Will Clark or Kevin Mitchell but I’d invariable get a HoJo. Kind of amazes me how much he’s been forgotten now but third base was a pretty deep position in those years.

I of course had a ton of inserts to choose from for this request but I went with a 1986 Mets Fan Club card because it was my favorite of his oddballs and also represented the World Series year. This came back in 24 days.

A 9-day return Shane Rawley continues the run of guys who had their best seasons during my formative fan years. With modern stats we can see that Rawley put together a very good 12-year career with a handful of solid WAR and ERA+ seasons. At the time though that 17-win season in 1987 (for a sub-.500 Phillies team) was impressive instead.

This is the fist time I’ve gotten a base and All Star card signed and I kind of like the way that having the pair together works. Not a lot of reliable signers who I can do this with though.

Since I’m not a huge college football guy, I was unaware of Cris Carpenter’s college career as an all-SEC punter. He was just one of those Rated Rookies from my youth whose career I lost track of in the strike year. I do remember being confused when Chris Carpenter debuted with the Cardinals in the early 2010s though. Nice to add a Rated Rookie signature in 9 days though..

A 7-day return from George Wright brought another 1986 card to the collection. Wright had an excellent 1983 season and a historically bad 1985 season. I’m not a huge proponent of WAR but his –3.7 WAR i 1985 is one of the worst on record.

I associate Tim McCarver with many of the big games I watched in TV when I was a kid. I didn’t get to see a lot of TV and so bringing it out of the closet for playoff baseball (or the Olympics) was always a special occasion. That McCarver was frequently part of those occasions means I think of him fondly. This came back in 9 days

A 54-day return from Erik Hanson added another 1989 Rated Rookie to the collection. I also like this 1991 Topps card and it captures his career-high 18 wins in the 1990 season.

Stormin’ Gorman Thomas is one of those fun nicknames and I enjoy the attitude in this career-capping 1987 Topps card.  I would’ve liked to use an older card but I didn’t have any good ones handy. But I was happy to get this one back in 10 days.

Thomas also included a signed index card for his Stormin’ Sauce business. I’m not a huge sauce guy in general but I have to admit I’m a bit curious.

And Thomas also included this note about how to order. I enjoy how different the St. Jude notepaper is compared to Thomas’s fu manchu image.

I thought this return had gotten lost. In late March I received an envelope that had already been opened. It had a Michigan postmark and the only person I’d sent to there was Ernie Whitt so I figured these were gone. Turns out it was another card. No idea who but the Whitts came back after 72 days.

Whitt was the last original Blue Jay to play for the team and put a solid career together in the 1980s. He’s since become the manager of the Canadian National baseball team as well.

It’s always fun to get a postcard back.  I would’ve sent this out a long time ago but I didn’t realize that Darrell Evans signed. I was starting to thing I may have lost this too but it came back in 70 days.

Evans is one of the definitive underrated guys, a couple amazing seasons with the Braves in the 1970s and a decade of solid, or better, production from the mid-70s to mid-80s. His name doesn’t come up as often as it should considering that he’s that near-Hall of Fame tier type of player.

It’s especially nice that this postcard is from 1983 which is both his best year as a Giant and the year he won the Willie Mac Award.

Since I’m not building 1979, I’m okay sending out non-duplicate cards to reliable guys. Barry Bonnell is one such player and returned these in only 8 days. One of the things I enjoy a lot about hitting my 1986 duplicates is finding guys whose cards I have in earlier sets.

The difference between 1979 and 1986 doesn’t seem that big to me now but I haven’t shaken my understanding of these two sets as being the difference between OLD and current. This mentality works for Bonnell’s career in which he’s just starting off in his 1979 card while 1986 represents his last year in the bigs.

Funny how things work out. Back-to-back returns of 1979 cards and I’m not even working that set. I remember Jim Beattie’s 1987 card from my youth. Such a distinct photo and definitely different than most other photos in the set. Beattie is also an interesting player in that he went back to school and turned himself into a General Manager, with the Expos first and followed by the Orioles.

This was a weird return. I write my address in both slots of the return envelope just in case something happens. Still, I never expected to find an envelope that had been ripped completely in half with the stamp and half my address missing. Someone taped up the ripped side and the return address took care of the rest. Inside I found a 62-day return from Mark Eichhorn and the cards no worse for wear.

Eichhorn had a distinct sidearm motion that you can get a sense of in these photos. He’s also currently a high school baseball coach in Aptos.

I only caught the end of Cecil Cooper’s career but he’s one of those guys I kept running into cards of during my youth. I couldn’t avoid him in all those 1980s oddball sets and as a result I always think of him as being a bit of a star. He definitely had a good decade-long run in the majors and it’s nice to add another 1988 card in only 18 days.

A 12-day return from Bert Roberge increased my 1986 count to 54. I’m not trying to build a signed set but it’s been fun to work my duplicates. Roberge is the first of those 54 to sign with a ballpoint pen. This is pretty common even with 1970s players but the 1980s and later guys seem to understand that sharpies are better.

Always nice to add another Stanford custom. I got Willie Adams’s autograph when he was at Stanford and I was a teenager. I didn’t mention the story about his dad asking him to “sign one for the little guy” (I was pushing 6′ at time but Adams was 6’7″) but that was a fun in-person memory from three decades ago. Comparing to his college sig these are pretty close. He did not keep any customs and sent everything back in 31 days.

The Team USA cards are fun but I enjoy having a signed card of him as a pro. It’s also nice to add my first 1998 to the collection.

Frank Eufemia is almost local and returned his card in just 6-days. He had a short career but also featured as a replacement player for the Yankees in the 1995 fake spring training.

Another 1986 return. This time from Jack Perconte in 8 days. He’s written a couple books about hitting and seems to be a decent guy in terms of wanting to help kids and their parents navigate the world of youth baseball.

Ed Wojna also sent back a 1986 card in 8 days. Wikipedia states that this card was massively overproduced but I have my suspicions since the assertion isn’t sourced and I haven’t run into as many of this card often enough for it to stand out as a double or triple print.

Wojna sent back a really long letter which represents the first Jehovah’s Witnesses’ pitch I’ve received. I’m not surprised to receive evangelical tracts and personal testaments but many of them feel like they come from similar churches.

A 25 day return from current Ranger broadcaster Mark McLemore was a fun one. I remember him as an Angel since that’s who he played for in my formative years but he put together a more-than-respectable 19-year career with seven different teams.

I’ve been working a Scott Erickson collection of sorts because of high school reasons so I figured I should look up what other players attended my school. It’s a short list consisting of four players,* only three of which have cards showing them with a Major League team.** Sandy Wihtol was the only one with flagship Topps cards so I grabbed one and sent it out for a request.

*Doug Clarey, Sandy Wihtol, Scot Erickson, and Evan Marshall.

**Clarey only has 1970s minor league issues. Marshall meanwhile has only a Bowman card and a Total card to his name.

It came back 35 days later. Wihtol is now a high school coach for a rival school but I got a nice “Go Mustangs” note on my letter. The high school project doesn’t have enough players to be a real project like my Stanford one but it’s a fun little mini collection to have going.

And that’s it for May. I’ve been slowly working on customs and am close to placing an order. But for now next month looks to be more of the same as I work through my duplicates.

April Returns

April continues my returns of junk wax and players from my youth. Lots of players who my parents would sarcastically refer to as household names but every single one of them jogs one of those “oh yeah that guy” memories from my childhood. I kind of miss being able to remember every card I owned while I’m also quite glad that I’ve trained my mind to no longer have to hold on to that information.

The month started off with a 15-day return from catcher Chris Hoiles. He had a 10-year career with Baltimore, including an especially excellent 1993 season, catching a no hitter in 1991, and and hitting two grand slams in one game in 1998.

Bruce Benedict is another one-decade catcher who spent his entire career with the Braves. He stuck around as a good fielder who backed up maultipe catchers who the Braves hoped could provide good offense. He returned these cards in only 9 days.

A 31-day return from Dick Schofield prompted me to add a families tag to my database because his father played for the Giants in the 1960s. Schofield had a nice 14-year career, most of it with the Angels, in the majors.

Stewart Cliburn added another 1986 card to the collection in 12 days. In addition to being a set that I’m using a lot for TTMs, this specific card has his very good 1985 stat line on the back. Cliburn only played parts of a couple seasons but his 1985 line of 44 games and a 2.09 ERA is impressive.

A 22-day return from Scott Medvin added a pair of 1989 cards. Medvin is another guy who only played a few seasons in the majors. but he managed to time it with my peak fandom. Both of these 1989 cards are from sets that I like to get signed but which I usually don’t select due to other cards looking better.

This is a pull from my dentist haul instead of my childhood cards. There were a couple Paul Popovich cards in the pile so I decided to try sending one out. Seven days later it came back. Popovich is primarily a Cub who was known for being a bit of a “super sub.”

An 8-day return from Buddy Groom added a cool photo of Turn Back the Clock day in Cleveland. Took me a long time to figure out that that weird Detroit uniform was a throwback and Municipal Stadium has the same kind of pillars in the grandstand at Tiger Stadium for me momentarily think this photo was a home game. Something about all the textures in the dugout really makes this work as a card. I can’t imagine any modern park looking this beat up ever.

Okay this is a fun one. As a Giants fan, Jose Canseco wasn’t one of my guys when I was a kid. But that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t he wasn’t a big deal on the playground. My junior high self would’ve totally expected him to make it to the Hall of Fame and the fact that he played locally made him even a bigger deal.

I went with the 1989 card for 40/40 reasons since it lists that season on the back. It’s also just a nice clean photo and design featuring him at the peak of his powers. My teenage self would be very pleased by this. Heck, three decades later I was still excited to find that in my mailbox after 55 days.

The same day I got Canseco I also got a 10-day return from Rick Parker. While he’s not a childhood hero of sorts, his excellent (it’s possibly the best photograph in the set) 1991 Score card made this a return I enjoyed a lot as well. The fact that Parker was a bench player for the Giants made it relatively easy to track down the actual play depicted.

The bad news, Parker is out here. The good news, this is the end of a play where the Giants were down a run with two outs in bottom of the ninth inning and Will Clark doubled with runners on the corners to tie the game. Parker was thrown out to end the 9th but the Giants won it in 10 innings.

I recently read The Wax Pack by Brad Balukjian. It’s fun and touches on a lot of the things that all of us who collect cards feel when we look back on those cards from our youth. It’s a bit more about Brad than the cards and players but some of the vignettes wth each player are great. The Jaime Cocanower chapter is a good one. He’s one of those distinct names that’s memorable to a kid and which, as a result, is able to evoke an entire age.

While I didn’t mention the book to him, as someone who’s using this activity to reminisce a bit about the guys from his youth, I couldn’t help smile and enjoy some of the overlap between my project and the book. Not all the guys in the book are good signers but Cocanower returned his card in 27 days.

I had put off sending to a couple Stanford guys because I wanted to make customs for them. Unfortunately, finding photos of a number of them has proven to be quite elusive. So I decided it would make sense to send out index cards to a few of the players who I don’t have cards of. Former Angel and Stanford catcher Jim Hibbs set this pair back in only 11 days.

I sent two index cards because I’ve noticed that a lot of the Stanford guys like to write notes back due to the nature of my project and I like to give them something to write on. Hibbs instead signed bith cards and enclosed a nice note on his own stationery.

Von Hayes doesn’t have the strongest stat line but his best years happen to correspond to my first years as a baseball fan. As a result, he’s one of those players who still stands out in my memory. Very nice to add another 1986 to the collection. This one took 12 days to come back.

A 66-day spring training return from Daniel Robertson caught me by surprise. This one came from Milwaukee where he’s playing this season. Always fun to add a signed custom and this is one which I think turned out really well. He did not keep one however.

Back to the 1986 cards. Dane Iorg came back in 13 days. Most of his career was with the Cardinals but his career highlight in many ways is his game-winning hit in the infamous Don Denkinger game in the 1985 World Series. This 1986 card sort of commemorates that World Series victory.

I bought this Brett Jodie card a year and a half ago because I was planning on trying to get it signed at Somerset. Sadly, the season got cancelled and Somerset affiliated with the Yankees and, as a result, Jodie got left without a job. He’s now the manager of the Lincoln Saltdogs and I sent my card out thanking him for his time a Somerset and wishing him luck in his new gig. He sent this back in 12 days.

Journeyman infielder Mike Fischlin was a quick 9 day return. He put together close to a decade in the majors but is probably most notable for being both one  of Scott Boras’s first clients as well as a member of the Boras organization.

Bryn Smith was also a 9 day return. He was on multiple National League teams so I know I probably got to watch him at some point. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a Rockies card since he has a notable place in Rockies history as having recorded the first win for the franchise.

Harvey Shank is like Jim Hibbs and represents a Stanford guy who has no cards nor any photos online that are high-enough resolution to make customs.  I’m not going to go down the index card rabbit hole but they have a place in the collection and I will eventually do something more with them than just having pages of index cards.

Shank’s return actually confused me a ton because it came back in a bubble mailer. I didn’t recognize the sender nor had I ordered anything. Only after I opened it up did I realize it was a TTM request coming back after 13 days. Inside were my two index cards, a very nice note, my unused SASE, and this book which is blurbed by John Ortberg (among other people). I’ve gotten tracts before but this one seems to be aimed at atheists rather than being a general “here’s my personal story” testament.

A 10-day return from Rich Thompson added another 1986 Topps card to the collection. I like the photo on this one quite a bit and favor photos like it for my custom cards.

Kevin Elster set a MLB record by playing in 88 straight games in 1988–1989 without making an error. He also hit 3 homers in the first game at Pac Bell Park. His card came back in 12 days.

While the first Series I ever watched was 1986, the first one I watched as a fan was 1987. Tom Lawless was an extremely light-hitting infielder—good glove and speed but his 1987 batting average was .080—who happened to surprise everyone with a home run (and bat flip) off of Frank Viola in that series. He sent these back in 57 days.

Willie Montañez had a dozen-year MLB career—even making the All Star team in 1977—but from 1975–1982 he managed to play for eight different teams including two different stints with the Phillies. His two-seasons with the GIants were actually pretty good and it’s nice to add him to the Giants album after only 10 days.

A 9-day return from Mark Wasinger added another two-year Giant. Wasinger though was only ever a bench guy even though his second game with the team involved him going 4 for 5 with a homer and scoring 3 runs. He stands out in my memory though as one of the Mothers Cookies cards I always needed.

Mike Easler was wrapping up his career when I was starting out as a fan but he was one of those names I just knew. His “Hitman” nickname certainly didn’t hurt here either and while it would’ve made sense to get his autograph on a Pirates card, these are the two I remember him from.

Easler in the midst of writing a book and included a business card soliciting donations for his project. It’s clear that a lot of other fans remember him fondly too.

Another short 10-day return and another short-term Giant. Alan Fowlkes only pitched for the team in one season but that got him cards in the 1983 sets. 1983 is one of my favorite Topps sets and designs too but for some reason I just don’t have many of them, signed or otherwise.

And i’ll finish the month off with a 20-day return from Justine Siegal. I made these customs way before she got a Ginter card last year but never sent them out. Siegal does great work with Baseball for All and, as a Little League coach who’s both coached girls and had to tell his players to knock it off when we played against girls, I very much support and believe in her mission.  I was a little surprised that she didn’t keep any of these customs.

And that’s it for the month. A good one with a few great returns and a lot of fun ones. Lots of pending stuff out there still so here’s hoping that next month is more of the same.

March Returns

A slow month. I didn’t send as much to spring training as I have in previous years and it looks like it was a good idea. A few teams weren’t accepting mail and my own success rate dropped way off the table. Instead I’ve been going through my junk wax duplicates and sending out cards of guys from the sets of my youth. Lots of players who have been forgotten in general but which I recognize because I spent hours looking at these cards.

The first return of the month was a 19-day return from Scott Fletcher. As I work through my junk wax duplicates I’m grabbing cards from sets that I like to get signed. Fletcher was a journeyman glove guy who was good enough to stuck around for a long time despite never really being a locked-in everyday player.

The next return of the month was Mike Stenhouse in 116 days. Same motivation as Fletcher although I kind of like this photo. Something very 1986 Topps about it in its candid informal nature of catching a moment of baseball ma.

It took a while but my first spring training return came back after 22 days of waiting. Not too long but by this point last year I’d already received all but two of my spring training returns. Which meant that I was starting to think I wouldn’t get any (two Return to Senders reached me before this return and the forums had stories about how a number of teams weren’t accepting mail this season).

As a result I was very pleased and very relieved to get these from Tyler Rogers. It’s always nice to add signed customs to the binder and last year’s “hide the Getty watermark” design looks pretty good with some ink. And the 2020 Heritage is probably as close to a signed 1971 I’ll get.

A nice 10-day return from Doug Sisk brought one of the better 1988 Topps photos into the collection. I like 1988’s photo-centric nature but the photos themselves are frequently on the boring side. Not bad. Just uninspired. Batters batting. Pitchers pitching. Players posing. The few fielding cards such as Sisk taking off to cover first stand out for being different and more dynamic.

Ed VandeBerg is one of those guys I remembered because his double last name seemed like it was written differently in every set. 1988’s VandeBERG in particular was always weird to my eyes. But it was nice to fill out a few more of my childhood cards with a quick 11-day return.

A 110-day return from Balor Moore added another 1978 duplicate to the binder. A nicely-lit portrait on this card looks really well with ink. Moore was the Expos’ first pick in the expansion draft.

My second spring training return was 28 days from 2020’s Opening Day catcher Tyler Heineman. Nice to get his Topps card signed in addition to another custom. A bit of a shame that the personalization covers his face though. I enjoy the personalized cards but the face signing is always a bit disappointing.

With Bart and Posey on the team this year, there’s not a lot of room for more catchers. As a result, Heineman is in St. Louis now and seems to have had a decent spring even though he didn’t make the team.

An 8 day return from Jack Lazorko returned things to my childhood card kick. Lazorko is sort of most famous for a highlight clip that used to play on This Week in Baseball. It’s still a fun video to watch and definitely seems like it’s from a different age of the game when it was okay to thing of pitchers as athletes.

Henry Cotto was another 8 day return. I couldn’t decide which Mariners card to send so I sent both. I like the candid photo but the sliding one is the kind of image that doesn’t show up on cards very often. Despite having been a coach in the Giants’ minor league system, Cotto is not going into my Giants binder.

Keith Miller came back in 19 days. There’s something about his 1992 card which just works. It’s kind of a weird photo but suggests a sense of anticipation. The horizontal aspect also works well and gave him a nice space to sign his name.

A 9 day return from Scott Bailes brought some more childhood cards into the collection. For whatever reason I look at these cards and think Bailes is a rookie but he’d been around the league for a while by this point and was even traded for Johnnie Lemaster back in 1985.

Mike Bielecki is one of those guys who I remember watching with a bunch of NL teams. Unfortunately I don’t have any Cubs cards of him—those all went to Beau years ago—but he bounced around to three teams which came through Candlestick while I was a fan. This return came back in 41 days.

Rafael Novoa never got a Major League win but this 1991 card does show his only career save on the back. He was only on the Giants in 1990 and this card came back in 18 days.

A quick 8-day return from Floyd Bannister brought in a 1985 card to the binder. While I’m still contemplating building 1985, I have been adding a few to the autograph binder and have been enjoying how those look signed as a group. It’s also nice to add some stuff outside of my wheelhouse to the childhood card requests that I’ve been making recently.

The last return of the month was a 49-day return from Charles Hudson. I continue to enjoy how the 1986 design looks signed. Hudson lives in Texas and I had sent this request out like a week before the cold snap which destroyed their power grid. I felt a bit guilty about that since I figured he had more important things to handle than answering fan mail. It’s very nice of him to have saved and answered his mail in that time.

And that’s about it. No idea what to expect for April. I’ve a bunch of Spring Training requests out there still. And I’ve sent a decent amount of childhood cards out. Those are fun to get back but not nearly as inspiring as the returns I’ve been used to getting.

What I’ve really go to do is fire up the custom card making machine again and start sending those out. Those remain the most enjoyable part of TTM requests and I’m overdue for a new batch.

February Returns

A slow month caused by me taking a few weeks off from sending requests before gearing up for spring training. The backlog of stragglers however came through in a big way with a couple nice cards.

The first return of February was well worth the 84-day wait. When I was a kid 50 home runs in a season was a big deal. It had only happened once since 1965 and as a result George Foster was just one of those players I knew. I had to explain who he was to my kids though since they’ve grown up in an era where we average a 50 home run season a year.* Yes each of those guys is a star the year it happens but the accomplishment is nowhere near what it used to be.

*Starting with Cecil Fielder in 1990, 50 home runs have happened 30 times over the following 30 years.

As a Giants fan, Foster is of course one of the biggest “what if” stories in team history.* I don’t actually have a lot of his cards (it would’ve been nice to get a Reds card signed) but this 2003 Topps Shoebox card which recreates his 1971 Rookie Card as a solo card was a nice duplicate to have handy and offered a way to get his autograph on a Giants card. And yes, while it’s not a 1971 card it could serve as a stand-in for tha year in my one-per-year not-actually-a-project thing.

*Though not as big as the “what if the Giants had offered Hank Aaron $50 more in his salary” scenario which suggests the possibility of Hank and Willie Mays playing in he outfield together for 15 years.

Don Kessinger was another return that took over a couple months. Only 70 days this time as he signed another of my 1978 duplicates. While he’s mainly a Cub, his 1978 is nice to have since that was the year he became the last player-manager in the American League. He only managed into 1979 but it’s still a fun thing to commemorate.

Another straggler. Another 1978 duplicate. Another fun return, this time from Steve Rogers. Like Doug DeCinces, Rogers is one of the player represenatives who I learned about when reading Split Season and yeah, 207 days after I sent this request I still have work stoppages and labor disputes on my brain.

Randy Hunt played in 25 games over two seasons with only 13 hits in 67 at bats (2 home runs though). However, he received a truly wonderful card as his only MLB card. It’s hard to imagine a better version of this moment with him halfway through his first step out of the crouch, face visible after having just removed his mask, cap just hanging out in mid-air, and eyes up tracking the ball. Of course I had to send this card out.

I thought it was gone too. Hunt typically turns things around in a couple weeks and I sent this in mid-summer. It finally came back 199 days later in a water-damaged envelope and I was a bit concerned. Then I opened it up and found two cards where I’d only sent one. If I had to guess, it would be that something happened to my request on the way to Hunt and he held on to it until he could replace the card I’d sent with a cleaner version.

Sid Bream in 9 days added another 1991 Studio to the collection. HE’s one of those names which takes me back to my childhood as I remember watching him at Candlestick as both a Pirate and a Brave and of course I also remember watching him on TV in that fantastic 1992 National League Championship Series.

I wish I had a Giants card of Wilson Alvarez since he was part of that 1997 team that brought me back to the sport. I didn’t though so I had to make due with this pair of 1992s. I like the Upper Deck but I kind of love the idea of getting those No Hit Club cards signed (I got Tommy Greene previously). He was a pretty good pitcher in the 1990s though his stint with the Giants wasn’t as good as we hoped it would be. These came back in 10 days.

A 12-day return from Zane Smith is very much like the Sid Bream return in a guy who I just remember seeing around the National League. I don’t particularly like the 1990 card but it’s nice to get one for each team.

While I’m not an A’s fan, I can’t deny that those late-80s, early-90s teams were a big part of my baseball upbringing. Terry Steinbach seems to have been kind of forgotten by the larger baseball fandom but he was a solid catcher and even won the All Star Game MVP. It was very nice to get this back in 73 days.

I don’t follow a lot athletes on Twitter but I do follow Don August. He’s not a prolific tweeter but he has a tendency to drop wild stories about playing ball overseas. He’s also a great TTM guy and turned this around in 15 days.

And that’s that for February. No idea what to expect for March. I’ve sent a bunch of Spring Training requests out but those are increasingly a crapshoot. I’ve got my fingers crossed that I’ll get a few customs back though.

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.

January Returns

Starting off the new year. I didn’t send out much this month since the kids schooling was all over the map. Rising COVID numbers forced the district to have to scramble to change plans. I’ve barely had time stay on top of the blog as it is let alone write any requests.

My first return of the year was a 22-day one from Jerry Koosman. As a Mets legends, I wish I’d had a Mets card to send to him. But with 1986 representing my first year as a baseball fan and the first packs I really saw there’s something fitting about getting him on on his career-capper card instead.

It seems like a bunch of us in the TTM community all sent to Tom Murphy around the same time since we all got returns within a day of each other. Mine came back in 32 days. This is another of my 1979 duplicates. Murphy put together a career of over a decade with stints at a half dozen teams finishing up as one of the original Blue Jays.

A 83 day return from Stan Spencer added another signed Stanford custom to the collection. I’m up to 23 different guys now on this project (out of 62 total cards produced so far) and am really enjoying each one I receive. I’ve still got a handful out but will have to wait until Spring Training to try a few more requests.

Spencer is one I especially like adding since he was the ace of the 1990 staff (over Mussina) and while I have a few of his autographs from when he was at Stanford, his lack of success afterwards meant I never came across any cards of him when I was a kid. This is also a case where comparing his current signature to what it was when he was in school is interesting.

Former Giants catcher Milt May signed in 38 days. It’s been kind of amazing for me to realize how many catchers the Giants went through in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Lots of names I recognize but most of them only stayed around for a year or two. May was actually there for parts of four seasons and was the starting catcher before Bob Brenly took over.

Jim Walewander isn’t exactly a household name but he’s rightly become a bit of  a legend in the TTM community. I’m also starting to go through my childhood duplicates and fleshing out the signed portions of those sets. Pretty much everyone in those sets are names I recognize anyway and Walewander is no exception.

This request was out for 28 days and spanned the holiday season. Walewander included a blank-backed custom card and drew a nice Christmas tree for me. This will be an especially  fun addition to the binder.

Speaking of fun additions to the binder. Not technically a return but worth putting in this post since it was caused by a request, I received a Christmas card from Frank Thomas. It’s actually a pretty cool bit of artwork which would make for some very nice custom cards.

Inside the card is even cooler though and caught me totally by surprise. This is not all the usual thing that happens with TTM requests and I’m not sure anyone else has gotten a card. I feel like I need to send him a thank you note for this except that my first letter to him was already a thank you note for him being cool to a little kid who had no idea who he was.

A 58-day return from Mark Huismann brought a 1987 Topps card with a very nice casual photo. This is both a card from my youth but also represents the kind of card that just isn’t made nowadays. No one takes nice portraits like this anymore and relievers like Huismann get shut out of the checklists in favor of all the rookies and big-name stars.

The theme for this month is likely to be cards from my youth. Larry Bowa is another such card. He was hired as the Padres manager in 1987 and, as a division rival to the Giants was probably the first new manager I remember. I sent him an extra 1988 card and it came back in only 6 days. If I had a playing-days card of him I would’ve sent it as well but I don’t.

A 13 day return from Bruce Miller added another mid01970s Giants to my collection. He was a utility infielder who spent most of his career going up and down between the majors and AAA Phoenix. The 1976 card does indicate his only Major League home run though.

Another fast return, this time 8 days from Jerry Reed, brought another pair of cards from my youth. I’ve been pulling cards showing different uniforms when I can and this is a nice pair. I especially like the Indians cap in the 1986 card. I never noticed that it was a non-Wahoo cap when I was a kid. Looking at it now shows me that the Wahoo caps were brand new in 1986—just sneaking in at the last minute to make my “they’ve always been like that” sense of things.

Another pair of cards from my youth. I probably should’ve dug for a 1987 Topps Yankees card but a pair of Gary Roenickes with different teams made a nice 10-day return. He was primarily an Oriole but I would’ve seen him as a Brave in my first couple years of baseball fandom.

Jim Wohlford was a Giant for three seasons during those rough early-80s years. He put together a decent 15-year career as a reserve outfielder though. Since the 1982 Fleer is kind of a dark blurry mess I sent the much-nicer 1986 card showing him next to the batting cage. His return rate hasn’t been super grea but I got these back in 76 days.

Getting back into my youth junk wax with a 39-day return from Lee Guetterman. I dig his 1987 Topps photo as something distinct for its era and I really need to try and get more 1991s signed.

Of the cards from my youth that I’m sending out, some, like Jerry Don Gleaton’s 1986 Topps card,really stand out to me. I have no idea why I remember this one so vividly but I do. It must’ve been one I got in my first pack. Anyway it’s nice to send this kind of card out and thank a guy for being part of my youth that way. Gleaton’s a pretty quick turnaround too in exactly two weeks.

A 71 day return from Ray Crone was especially cool. First, it’s always fun to add a guy who played for the New York Giants. There aren’t many of them left and even fewer of them are able to sign TTM. Second, adding my first signed 1958 Topps card gives me a run of signed Topps cards from 1957 to 1995. I’m missing three years with facsimile signatures (71, 75, and 82) but the idea that I’m close to my childhood goal only with signed cards is kind of amazing.

Tom Niedenfuer in 17 days brought me a Dodger from the first MLB game I attended. He’s also a name I just recognize from my childhood collection and that 1985 shows the signs of being one of the first cards I owned as well since it’s pretty beat up.

Ron Kittle is one of those guys who immediately takes me back to a specific age of baseball which just happens to coincide with my childhood. He was a big name for a few years and as such marks a generation of fans in a very specific kind of way. He’s a good signer and sent these back in 20 days.

Jim Acker isn’t a big name like Kittle but he’s anther from my childhood collection whose name is indelibly etched in my mind. As a Braves pitcher I probably saw him pitch at Candlestick at least once. his was a 19 day return.

Butch Wynegar is another one from my childhood cards. I had a 1979 card of him with the Twins as well so I sent him three, one from each team. He added the fourth, an awesome 1985 Topps card I’d never seen before, when he sent everything back 22 days later. Catcher action cards are almost always the best baseball cards and this is no exception.

Wynegar is also noteworthy for jumping from single-A to MLB for his debut. Impressive for anyone but extra impressive for a catcher.

Jim Duffalo was a member of the 1962 team but didn’t appear in the World Series. He’s one of those guys where almost every card of his is in the high numbers. As a result I’m missing some of his cards still and didn’t have any duplicates. His 1965 though was one I could pick up an extra for cheap plus it’s never a bad thing to get a 1965 signed. The fine-point marker looks great and it came back in only 17 days.

A 24-day return from Gary Lucas was a fun one since it includes his rookie and career capper cards while also covering all three teams he played for. It’s nice that his 1981 also represents his best career season when he lead the league in appearances and had a 2.00 ERA.

I’ll finish things off this month with three cards from a Trove Sports Den signing. They had a bunch of good prices for a mid-December signing so I figured I’d see how things went.  Since this involved them sorting my mailing into athlete piles, mailing those to the athletes, waiting for them to be returned, then re-sorting everything into my individual return envelope, I’m not at all surprised that it took 70 days.

Dave Stewart was the big name of the bunch. It’s hard for me to think back about those late-80s, early-90s A’s teams and not think primarily of Smoke. Yes, the Bash Brothers and Rickey got all the headlines. But what made those teams so good was its starting pitching and Stewart was a fearsome presence on the mound.

I also got a card of Kirk Rueter signed. In many ways Woody is the polar opposite of Dave Stewart in being not at all intimidating while relying on all kinds of off-speed stuff. Yet he became the most-successful San Francisco Giants lefthander before Madison Bumgarner.* He’s still a fan favorite as well as a personal favorite of mine.

*I often reference Rueter’s career as an explanation for why I expect the first woman to play in Major League Baseball will be a left-handed pitcher who throws frisbees and can locate her pitches.

And finally, I couldn’t not send this card of Coco Crisp. Probably the best card of 2014 (I haven’t confirmed this though) and an all-around great card in general. It’s a fitting way to finish my January post. I’m not expecting much in February since I  haven’t sent anything out for a while. Bu who knows what the mail will bring.

2020 in review

Yes it’s been a garbage year which feels like it stole a season of baseball from my kids and me. But it’s also been a surprisingly good one for me within the collecting hobby. I’ll start off with a round-up of some activity that’s been outside of my work at the SABR Baseball Cards Blog since I’ve been interviewed for a couple of articles this year.

The first interview was before the pandemic hit but got buried by COVID news for a few months. It did however finally post on Slate in November and is a fun piece about digital baseball cards and collectibles. Between the hobby going gangbusters and everyone increasingly living their lives online it’s been interesting to watch the digital side of things develop and see how many of the older members of the community react to the new-fangled stuff.

Along those lines I participated in a SABR discussion about the future of baseball cards where I occupied the skeptical but open-minded side of the spectrum. It’s very easy to get excited at all the possibilities in the digital side of things and there’s a ton of potential in augmented reality and other ways of combining cards with computers. At the same time, there’s the question of how technology ages and degrades to consider. One of the things that makes cards great is that ink on paper, while a pain to store, is not subject to the whims of any technological maintenance.

The second interview I took part in was a short one on Beckett about my Al Kaline debacle. I’ve gotten more joy out of that screwup and confirmation than I ever expected. I had to write a longer version of the whole ordeal over on SABR in order to tell the whole story from my point of view.

Getting to work within SABR. I assisted with the committee’s First Annual Jefferson Burdick Award, helped with the biographies, and produced the baseball card which commemorated the winner. I was honored to introduce the award at the Zoom presentation because we couldn’t do it at a convention.

I also helped produce and compile SABR’s 50 at 50 list of fifty cards for fifty years which tells the story of baseball and baseball cards over the first fifty years of SABR with one baseball card per year. That was a lot of fun to work on and I’m definitely proud of the result.

On the SABR blog itself my two favorite posts are one about Project 2020 and when cards intersect with current events and one which does a deep dive into the way card designs interact with photography. Both of these are my usual “take my niche interests and run with them to an extreme” sort of posts but I like that they both look a cards from 2020.

And finally I was lucky enough to actually meet some collectors before everything got shut down. It would’ve been nice to meet more but I’ve very glad I got to meet Mark Hoyle and Ralph Carhart before all hell broke loose.

Okay to collecting highlights. Not a lot of card acquisitions this year due to COMC shipping being broken, retail being a trashfire, and access to card shops being non-existent. As a result this year has been mainly prewar cards acquired through ebay or twitter.

The pre war category has everything but I’ve really enjoyed following my gut here. Where I have set rules to keep me on task for baseball cards, the pre war world is so all over the map that as long as I keep a high bar of what interests me and why, I find that I end up enjoying all of these because of how unique they are.

Some, like Garbatys and the United Tobacco are flat-out beautiful and appeal to me as a print geek in addition to my pop-culture interests. Others like the famous airmen and airwomen are pure pop culture. And I’ve grabbed some soccer cards, stereo photography, and all kinds of other things that strike my interest. I even added the oldest card in my collection this year.

I did also grab some prewar baseball. It’s noteworthy that three of these are San Francisco Seals card and I’ve decided that doing a Pacific Coast League type collection of one Seals card per set is a project I’m going to attempt. It’ll be a backburner attempt but the degree I enjoy each and every Zeenut card is going to make it a lot of fun.

The 1916 Johnny Couch is also my oldest official baseball card and the 1921 American Caramel Zeb Terry is my oldest Major League card. Moving both of those benchmarks further into the past is another accomplishment which I’ll look forward to making again.

The one more-recent card purchase highlight was this Lewis Baltz card from Mike Mandel’s Baseball Photographers trading cards. I don’t have more to add to the post I already wrote but this definitely deserves to be in the wrap-up since it’s not every card that I’d call a white whale.

And with that we’ll move on to trades. A decent amount of both incoming and outgoing mail this year. Before I get to card highlights I have to note that trading this year finished off a bunch of sets I was working on. I finished my 1986 Topps, 1990 Fleer, 1990 Upper Deck, 1991 Donruss, 1991 Studio, and 2019 Stadium Club builds this year, leaving me a bit at odds with what to build (if anything) next. Two of my remaining builds almost done too (I only need two 1987 Topps cards and one 1994 Topps cards) so it’s really just 1989 Donruss and 2014 Topps that are on the list now.

As for individual trade highlights, I have to highlight three Willie Mays cards from three different guys. All of these were unexpected and extremely welcome additions to the collection. Willie Mays was the one vintage card I wanted for Christmas when I was a kid and still I get the same thrill every time I add one now.

A few more highlights from trades. Lots of more-modern cards as well but those all kind of blur together (this doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them). These though are the kinds of weird and wonderful things that stand out. Diamond Matchbooks, National Chicle, Remar Bread, Jay Publishing, and that awesome MacGregor card are particularly fantastic.

Most of my activity this year though was via TTM request. Being homebound for almost ten months meant that going though my duplicates, making customs, and writing letters was a nice way to escape and relax.

I got a few Hall of Famers this year. Yes a lot of them are on 1986 Topps. I must’ve been building that set or something. It’s always especially fun to get one of these guys in the mail and it’s always something that my kids get excited seeing as well.

Much of my TTM activity though has been with customs and related projects. This year for example I scanned all the Giants Magazine covers from my youth and printed them out at 25% so they fit into 4-pocket pages. A large part of this is because I just enjoy seeing the covers but I also had an eye toward sending out some of the more-fun photoshoots for autographs. Getting the Don Robinson and Will’s World covers signed made the whole exercise especially worth it.

I did a lot of my usual customs too. A decent number of the 1956ish design. Many more of the 1978 design I’m using for Stanford players. I love getting these back and they look great all together. It’s hard to choose highlights here as well since they’re all so different.

I sent a bunch of Giants customs out during spring training and got many of them back despite the Covid-interrupted season. Many of the returns are from guys who don’t have regular Giants cards too so it’s especially nice to add them to the Giants album.

I’ve also been sending out cards with photos I like. These make for easy letters to write too. I figure that even someone who’s become somewhat jaded about being on cardboard must like to see that their card made an impression on someone and be reminded that they had a memorable photo.

And finally a few other favorite players/cards I got in the past year. It’s been super productive on the TTM front and a good reminder that while I’m hoping that next year is completely different in terms of how I enjoy the hobby, a lot of positive things have happened this past year.

Rather than focusing on all the plans that blew up I’m choosing to remember that 2020 brought a lot of good things. Outside the hobby I’ve had a ton of time to just hang out with the kids and spend time as a family without having a calendar full of activities. I hope there was a lot of silver in everyone else’s clouds too.