March TTMs

What a month. All things considered this was pretty successful. Spring training returns continued to come in and a few other requests I sent out also came back. With the whole Covid-19 debacle I stopped sending requests early in the month and things sort of dried up in the last two weeks. I have no idea what to expect for returns moving forward but I am looking forward to being able to start things up again some day.

Also it’s worth noting that the boys wrote a few letters and began getting returns this month as well. They’ve been pretty quiet since last summer but this is a fun activity to share with them plus it gets them writing.

They have a few more out there but who knows what to expect now. Anyway to my returns for the month.

I tried sending to Dave Righetti early last year. Was hopeful I’d get a return when I saw everyone else get returns around June. No dice. I figured that I’d try again this spring and send to Scottsdale instead  of Pac Bell. 27 days later a nice 1993 Topps Gold card came back signed.

Rags was one of those guys I liked watching before he became a Giant. Some pitchers you can just watch how they move the ball around the zone and really appreciate the art of pitching. Once he came to San Francisco I was happy to have an excuse to cheer for him. That he went on to become the pitching coach during the Even Years run of championships makes him even cooler.

Same Selman is yet another Giant who made his Major League Debut last year. These came back in 24 days. He didn’t keep one but I hope he liked them.

Two years into making customs and I’ve come to realize that I love sending out “congrats on your MLB debut, I made some customs for you” letters. This season I’m going to have to try and make debut or notable firsts (hits, home runs, wins, etc.) cards for all the guys making their official debuts.

Tommy Edman is a Stanford guy who was not on my radar for making it to the majors last year. But he did, had a great first season, and was literally the last guy to make it into the 2019 Update set.* I didn’t mention it when Big Shep sent me the Edman cards last year but Shep sent me an extra Edman for TTM reasons.

*Seriously. Edman debuted on June 8 and Yordan Alvarez debuted on June 9. Edman is included in 2019 Update. Alvarez had to wait until 2020 to get his first Major League card. Not sure whether the MLBPA union insisted on that cutoff or if Topps proposed it. Either way it left Update feeling like a badly-thought-out set which isn’t able to include either the top Rookies or the trades that occurred before the deadline.

Edman sent this back to me in only 19 days. Very cool and I’ve already added it to the page of Stanford Autographs. Up to 92 different athletes on there now.

Felipe Alou is probably my favorite return of the spring. I wish I’d had some vintage doubles of him (ideally 1960 0r 1962) but I also really liked him as the Giants manager and the way he used his platform there to speak about his experiences in the game and how society has changed in the decades since he started playing.

His baseball stories were great but the one that sticks with me the most is appropriate for his status as the first Dominican player. His first time traveling into the South and being informed that certain people had decided that he was black.

Needless to say I’m very happy with this card. He was one of the first letters I sent out and 31 days later I was very happy to add him to the binder.

I figured I shouldn’t just be sending to Spring Training so I sent a couple other requests out in February. Goose Gossage is one such request. His 1986 Topps card came back in 17 days. I just love the attitude in this photo. I would’ve sent him a 1989 Mothers Cookies card but I traded my duplicate a long time ago.

Chuck Essegian is another re-send for me. Once I started making Stanford customs I figured I should go back over the guys I got the first time around. The hard part is often finding photos. With Essegian I was stuck between showing him on the A’s since he never had an A’s card or putting him on the Dodgers since his pinch-hitting heroics make him a Dodger legend of sorts. I went with the Dodgers and after a couple of tries this came back in 8 days.

Spring training returns continued to trickle in after the first burst. Jandal Gustave signed in 34 days—still not a long wait. He was a bit of a surprise last season who came with no expectations and turned out to be quietly effective out of the bullpen.

After 10 days, Doug Gwosdz became the first signer to take advantage of the Mother’s Cookies “autograph” line on the backs of the cards. I’ve always wondered about that line as it felt both optimistic and a bit weird to have on the backs of the cards. It doesn’t feel like something that Mother’s Cookies would have invented but it’s not something that’s exactly common either.

I’ve gone ahead and scanned the front of the card as well. I would’ve preferred the signature be there but I can’t complain. This is actually a zero-year card since Gwosdz never appeared in the majors with the Giants. I don’t collect this theme but they’re certainly fun things to note and don’t really pop up that often (I didn’t see any Giants on the list I linked to). I appreciate that he signed the index card with his Giants number instead of the #10 he wore with the Padres.

Catcher Steve Nicosia came back in 9 days. He was a World Series winning catcher with the Pirates in 1979 and later spent two seasons with the Giants as a backup/platoon guy.

Roberto Hernandez’s 10-day return continues the theme of short-term Giants. He was only on the team for half of the 1997 season but since that pennant race is what brought me back to being a fan I remember him very fondly. His two-inning save of the game before the Brian Johnson game will be my lasting memory. He wasn’t our main closer but at that time it was quite a weapon to have a guy who could hit 100mph on the gun.

Yet another short-term Giant, Gene Richards signed in 11 days. Richards was primarily a Padre whose 56 stolen bases was the Rookie record from 1977 to 1980. This 1985 card is his career capper as he retired after his 1984 season—his only one with the Giants.

After the Richards return my mail pretty much dried up as the country went into the Covid-19 lockdown. My two-week dry spell was broken by a nice 44-day return from Alex Dickerson. The autos got kind of beat up and scratched in the return envelope but that was totally fine because Dick included a nice note as well.

This encapsulates everything I enjoy about sending out these requests. I mentioned in my letter how much fun it was to see the way he energized the team last season and giving the customs to players is a way to demonstrate my appreciation as a fan. In these days where everyone’s just waiting out the impending disaster and trying to stay safe there’s also something wonderful in just the simple “take care” sort of response everyone is giving each other.

I know the month isn’t over quite yet (will it ever end?) but this feels like an appropriate last return for the post. This blog doesn’t have many readers but I agree 100% with Alex. I hope all is well and that you’re all staying safe. Take care out there.

Hollywood Exhibits

So it appears that my “look what I’ve bought” posts are going to be most of my non-baseball, preferably non-sport, pre-war and vintage acquisitions. I’ve previously mentioned a set of 1930s Hollywood tobacco cards, this time I found a nice batch of of close to thirty 1940s Exhibit cards and couldn’t resist pulling the trigger.

Exhibit/arcade cards have become one of my favorite things. Nice big collectible photos and they’re usually in decent shape with the main wear and tear coming from being displayed. I try to limit my baseball acquisitions to just Giants but one of the wonderful things about Exhibits is that they cover all kinds of subjects and directly connect to the world of Cartes de Visite and Cabinet Cards with how the cards aren’t part of any formal set and are really just meant to circulate and be collected among fans.

Exhibits aren’t ordered or sold by the subject, but they also feel like a distinct product from early baseball cards. This is partly because they’re sold as photos from vending machines rather than being packaged with something else. The product is 100% about photography and how it circulates.

I’m not going to scan and post all the cards but this is a flavor of what I got and why I pulled the trigger. We’re getting into Golden Age stars and some of the cards in the batch as as big a name as you could hope to have—to the point where I don’t have to identify any of these four actors.

Also in the batch are stars like Bing Crosby, Mickey Rooney, and Jimmy Stewart as well as a number of other recognizable names like Dana Andrews, Alan Ladd, and Roddy McDowell. The only complaint I have about the batch is that aside from Judy Garland, the only other woman who’s even a semi-recognizable name was Mary Martin.

Still, lots of fun to have and look through and it makes my non-sport binder that much better.

I also got to go on a Wikipedia dive for all the names I didn’t recognize. While that could be a post in and of its own, I’ve decided to go a different route since a bunch of the cards turned out to be baseball related. Yup. I’ve got myself a toehold into a baseball card post as well.

We’ll start with these two Hall of Famers. My kids know Jimmy Stewart and Judy Garland but I think they may have gotten introduced to Abbott and Costello first. When my eldest was in first grade he came home from school one day and asked me if I knew what a question word was.

“Dada what’s a question word?”

“What.”

“Dada what’s a question word!”

“Why.”

“We learned about them in school! Dad What’s a Question Word!”

“When.”

By this point he was about to start punching something and my wife couldn’t hold her laughter back. So he got introduced to the routine and he and his younger brother tried their best to memorize it and repeat it in the back seat of the car for the following two years.

Another baseball-related card is this one of Laraine Day. The boys enjoy sports movies, particularly sports biopics, right now and 42 is one of their favorites. The first time we watched it I had no idea about Leo Durocher and Laraine Day. But we’ve watched it a couple times since and the most-recent viewing came after I got this batch of Exhibits.

During that viewing I realized I had received a Day card in there. While she’s not a big name, I was particularly pleased to confirm that I had her card. It’s nice when my interests overlap in unexpected ways.

Entirely Random

It’s been a while since a tweet encouraged me to write a blog post but this is one of those prompts that got my mind working. While I can’t deny that there’s a bit of a midlife crisis thing going on, the real reason I slipped back into collecting cards is because it represents a near perfect intersection of my already-existing interests.

I’ve worked in print and design. One of my long-standing hobbies is photography. I love baseball. Why wouldn’t I like cards? In many ways they were a formative part of my design and photography education. They exposed me to design and made me think about how different designs work. They exposed me to all kinds of photography. Their historical nature work as a easy primer on the history of both media and when you get older than the age of offset lithography you can learn a lot about different printing processes too.

I love looking at printed ephemera and seeing how things were designed and manufactured. I love looking at photography over the years. Focusing these interests on subject matter that interests me is a good thing.

Without focusing on baseball I’d likely be picking up god knows what kinds of printed material. Baseball allows me to ignore a lot of things.

But it’s not just the cards as objects that interest me. I particularly enjoy their historical aspect as well. Collecting teaches me the history of the game and provides a tangible connection  to players and teams of the past. That I’m able to enjoy this activity with my kids is the icing on the cake.

They also enjoy the history but they, so far, especially enjoy learning about the players I grew up watching. They’re excited to find cards of my guys and will ask me about players from the late 80s and early 90s. It’s fun. I  exchange I get to let them guide me with their knowledge of current players. I’m unable/unwilling to stay on top of everything the way I used to so it’s fun to let them be the experts on some parts.

We’re able to collect together and that’s far better than any mid-life crisis.

So I jumped the gun…

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When I wrote about wrapping up our season, while it was about Trenton, I was in the mindset that it was also our last baseball game of the year. As we drove back from the ballpark we were talking about how many games we’d gone to and had all reached the conclusion that that was it.

Then last weekend I caught notice that Somerset was playing a Saturday night game with a super hero theme so the boys and I decided to head out for one last game. I’d been to Somerset earlier this season but this would be the boys’ first time. It’s always nice to add a new ballpark to your life list.

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We ate before we left and still managed to get the the park in time for the boys to get their capes. There were enough kids wearing them at the ballpark that even the older kids were okay dressing up. Also there were all kinds of costumed heroes walking around and many of the fans were dressed up too.

My youngest ate it up. He loves Batman so he loved the Batman-themed jerseys and all the other stuff going on. We just wish that the baseball caps had batears like the batcowl.

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The highlight though was getting Frank Viola’s autograph before the game. My eldest received a complete (well near complete) set of 1991 Topps for Christmas and when we were getting ready for the Thunder season I noticed that Frank Viola was the Binghamton pitching coach. It was at this moment that the idea of getting his 1991 cards signed occurred to him. And it was this moment which also encouraged me to look up the other coaches and figure out who had played in the pros.

So while Joe Oliver was the first autograph of the set (and my son added Brian Harper later), he was disappointed to find that Viola had switched from Binghamton to coach for the High Point Rockers. That High Point was in town for this game meant that we were able to wrap up the season getting autographs on the two cards that were part of the excitement in the beginning. Very cool.

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This takes my son to four in-person autographs on his 1991 Topps set. Is he getting the complete set signed? LOL of course not. But it’s going to be fun to see how many he can add to it. Princeton baseball coach Scott Bradley has a card in the set (a fact I only realized after the season ended).  And Pete Incaviglia manages Sugarland which comes to Somerset a couple times a year*

*Actually this week but only on school nights so no dice.

1991 also just looks pretty good signed. Nice photos and simple borders. I like that the two Viola cards look so different too.

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In order to stave off sibling rivalries for now, I’ve been supplying my youngest with cards so he can “me too” with his brother. In this case where his brother is getting 1991 Topps signed, he’s getting 1991 Donruss. I know I know. Those are just the duplicates I have handy.

Still there is something to 1991’s color which appeals to his sensibilities though. In many ways it’s a perfect set for him. And the 1987 is because I happen to have a ton of those as well. But it’s a good year for Viola too.

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Viola is a super nice guy. Chatted briefly with the kids and thanked them for having his cards. They were super happy as we settled into our seats and watched the game. It was fun for the boys to watch without a rooting interest. Somerset is nominally our home team but they kind of rooted for High Point because of Viola.

We just watched the game. Saw a couple guys steal first base and chatted about how the Atlantic League rules are different.* My eldest has started to recognize when balls are well hit too. For a long time they couldn’t tell if something was hit well or not but a couple of the homers in this game were crushed and he could tell how those looked and sounded different.

*I’ve been wondering how to score those. The box score from this game lists them as HBPs even though the Atlantic League rules suggest that they should be listed as SBs. My gut suggests that they should be listed as WPs or PBs and count (or not) as earned runs accordingly.

He also noticed that many of the players had Major League experience and even recognized a few names from his collection. I suspect we’ll be going to more Somerset games next year and be keeping more up-to-date on the roster. The more low-key autograph scene here suits my preferences and my kids’ comfort a lot more.

High Point jumped out to an early 4-run lead. Somerset scratched back to within one. Then the Somerset pitcher ran out of gas, loaded the bases, and the relievers proceeded to let a couple runs in, re-load the bases and serve up a grand slam. Still, we saw some nice defense in there as well and there were plenty of other Independent League shenanigans as well.

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Mascots and superheroes roaming the aisles. Batman clips on the Jumbotron. Tshirt tosses (my eldest grabbed one). Playing “Piano Man” when it hit 9:00.* And yes fireworks after it all ended and Somerset was put out of its misery.

*No tonic and gin for sale though. 

The show had been hyped as a good one and it was one of the better stadium shows I’ve seen. An NJ Transit train pulled in right during the finale and I found myself wondering how much the train riders could see since it looked like things were being fired off right nest to the tracks.

There’s another series in a couple weeks. I don’t expect us to go but I can see them lobbying for it…