Little League

After a two year hiatus we got back to playing Little League. I’ve missed it. Weird being in the kid pitch division but also great since it looks like baseball. We had a great team this year with about 8 kids who could throw, almost all of which turned up to every event early and ready to play. A super positive group which might spoil me moving forward.

My youngest went into the season a bit shy and scared of pitching and came out of it with more self confidence than I ever expected. Not only did he turn out to be one of the most accurate pitchers in the league (1.11 WHIP when the league average WHIP is probably over 5) but he was willing to participate in the home run derby in front of everyone. We’re incredibly proud of him.

I was no longer a head coach since tweaking mechanics and stuff like hat is way beyond my ken. Instead I signed out to help out in the dugout and as a result, had a lot more time to take photos. Especially when our team is in the field.

One of these days I’ll get a proper autofocus lens which but for now I’m still using manual glass and prefocusing on things like the mound and home plate. I can’t complain about the results though. It’s nice to be able to send these to the parents and it’s nice for my kids to be able to see them as well.

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Project 1991

A couple Christmases ago my eldest received his godfather’s set of 1991 Topps. When we started going to Trenton Thunder games that spring I realized that a lot of the coaches coming through town were players in 1991. And so a project was born. That year we tried to get as many of his 1991 Topps cards signed as we could.

Turns out it was just four—Joe Oliver, Brian Harper, and two Frank Violas—but we had big plans for 2020 and were excited to continue. Yeah that never happened, but during that year my youngest ended up with a set of 1991 Score and so he decided to join us on this quest in 2021.

We’ve been working them the past two years now. Casey Candeale. Jeff Manto. Derrick May. Scott Bradley. Dennis Rasmussen. It’s been a lot of fun and gives them an entry into those 1991 sets.* They may not know all the players but they’re connecting to them as coaches. And by being pulling cards they end up really looking at the sets and how their photography is different.

*I have previously wondered about what it means to collect cards of players you don’t know.

It’s also just been fun for my eldest’s godfather to watch as well since it’s not just letting a set sit in storage they’re doing something with the cards. Every time we get one signed I send him a text to show the new addition.

My eldest is up to ten cards now.* In an ideal world this would be twelve but we missed out on Devon White with Buffalo/Trenton and Pete Incaviglia with Sugar Land.

*Yeah I know I haven’t mentioned Jim Gott yet. Just keep reading.

My youngest meanwhile has seven. He missed out on Oliver, Harper and Viola in 2019 but picked up Oliver this year.

The interesting thing this year is that these went from being a bunch of individual projects to something we’re all doing together. When we got Dennis Rasmussen’s autograph, my eldest couldn’t make the game but my youngest insisted on bringing the Topps card. He was just as happy, if not happier, to get a card signed for his brother as he was to get his own signed.

Last weekend neither boy could make the game so I ended up going alone. Jim Gott was the visiting pitching coach and was super nice abut signing the boys’ cards but also signed a couple for me as well.

I was only going to ask for the 1986 (I usually limit myself to two so pushing to four felt wrong) but he just asked to sign everything. I’d gotten him TTM a few years ago but in person is always better. I texted the boys a photo of their signed cards as soon as I sat down. Very fun. I won’t make a habit of doing this for them since the entire point is that we’re doing it together but once in a while is acceptable. Plus Gott was another guy who we’d missed last year.

I also got a pair of cards signed by Trenton pitching coach Shawn Chacon. Chacon may be most famous for how his career ended but hung around in the majors for eight years before then. This was another fun request where the Draft League players got super excited to see their coach have real MLB baseball cards. Just goes to show how much cards mean in terms of having made it to the show.

This pair of cards also filled two holes in my one-per-year pseudo project. For 1957–2021 I’m now just missing 1971, 1996, and 1999* which still boggles my childhood mind.

*I’ve got a reprint in the 1971 slot on the tracking page.

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Anyway aside from the autographs Trenton opened the stadium a half hour earlier than usual which meant that I got to watch batting practice for the first time in ages. Game started off great too. Super crisp with the Trenton pitcher being lights out in the first three innings.

Sadly the wheels fell off in the 4th and he game degenerated into everything you’d fear about the draft league. Bad pitching. Sloppy defense. Local fans weren’t happy and I can tell they’re not used to this level of play after a couple decades in AA.

Trenton ended up losing 12–8, outhitting State College 14-6 but also committing 5 errors and walking 4 guy in one inning.

Mailday from Bru

Found a nice PWE from Marc in my mailbox last week. School is over and summer has officially begun so it’s nice to start it off with some cards in the mail.

This isn’t the usual fare but as we’ve all stopped ripping new cards and sort of filled in the obvious collection items, I think we’re all casting about for other stuff to send each other. In this case, Marc has come into a good-sized lot of 1979 Topps cards and remembered that I had’t put together my Candlestick page for that set.

Being an Astros collector means that Marc has a decent number of cards feature The Stick in the background. These seven 1979s definitely complete my page and the 1980 Andujar doubles the 1980 Candlestick cards I own. Og these I like how the Lemongello shows off the black hole in center and how Cabell captures the left field bleachers and scoreboard.

All seven didn’t make my 1979 page but four of them definitely did. Once I get more than nine cards I try and spread things out to get different views and I definitely like how that page looks now.

The early-1980s needs work but I’ve not yet gone looking for cards here. It’s nice to have a complete page though even if it spans 1980–1985.

Marc also included two 1979 cards form the Jean-Michel Basquiat checklist. I enjoy the connection to the “real” art world and it’s a fun mini-PC to put together. Rather than digging through the comments of my SABR post I’ll list the checklist here.

  • Joe: Steve Henderson
  • Jerk: Bob Randall
  • Hot Dog: Steve Kemp
  • Wally: John Matlack
  • Bus Pass: Ed Glynn

These are the first two I own from that theme (I had a Steve Henderson but sent it out TTM a couple years ago and it never returned)

And yes even though we’re not ripping product Marc apparently is still. A handful of Donruss cards is very much appreciated, especially the Camilo Doval card since for whatever reason Topps isn’t featuring him. I’m not keen on this design but a least it’s very Donruss™ without being derivative.

Oh and the Diamond Kings card looks like a Diamond Kings card. I’m assuming it’s this year but I can never tell.

For a while I was considering only buying Donruss cards this year since boycotting MLB-licensed stuff is about the only way I can make a statement as a fan. But then I don’t buy anything anyway so it doesn’t really matter.

A couple Match Attax Barça cards. No idea where these are sold or if anyone plays the game but they’re a fun add to the non-baseball sports album. Ansu Fati in particular is on the cusp of becoming something great and I hop he realizes his potential. That #10 shirt is really heavy and, while I think they gave it to him too soon, the fact he wears it now says a ton about how he’s perceived in the team.

And lastly a Safe Hit Texas Vegetables crate label. Marc got a big batch of these and has been selling/distributing them. Not the kind of thing I actively collect but with Marc being in Texas I totally understand why he jumped on this.* It’s a cool image with a local angle and even the concept of “Texas Vegetables” evokes a weird combination of the Texas Leaguer with a Can of Corn.

*I’d be much more tempted if I came across a Best Strike Apple label since Watsonville is borderline Bay Area. But even then I try really hard to to get sucked into too many different collecting interests. 

I also had the weirdest reaction to this piece as a physical object in that my gut felt that it was fake but there’s jut enough going on that I can’t trust that gut reaction plus I don’t know a thing about how labels like these were typically printed. The thing is that my gut wants the text to be nice and crisp and it’s not. No crisp edges anywhere. The blacks and reds are screen mixes. All of these things are frequently tells that something has been photographed and reprinted.

But if the entire label including the text was painted as a single piece, this is exactly how it would look. Especially if printed slightly out out register the way this one is. Plus the small vertical “INC” in the bottom right corner is printed as linework which suggests it was added in after the original artwork was photographed for press. And there’s no sign of being rescreened anywhere on here.

Also, the paper, while slicker than I expected, is only slick on one side. Definitely doesn’t feel like paper you’d get today and is probably way cheaper than what you’d get from Vintagraph.*

*Worth noting that this version of the label has been restored and I suspect has had all the type re-set as linework so it prints crisply. 

Very cool stuff Marc. I was half expecting a Shawn Chacon custom for Trenton but it’s great to fill out more Candlestick pages.

Back in Trenton

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The biggest problem with Trenton being in the Draft League now is that the season doesn’t start until June. This is a shame since I really like the Trenton baseball experience and cutting over two months off the season makes me feel like I’ve been robbed.

Anyway the season finally started and my youngest and I made our way out to the ballpark last Friday night. Frederick was in town and their coaching staff is all former Major League players so we got there early to hang over the rail. This is a lot of fun with the low-key nature of the Draft League. Zero autograph hounds prospecting just a couple older fans who remember guys from their youth.

Which meant that we just got to hang out at the railing and watch the grounds crew set up the field and just get ourselves into the mood of things. It’s relaxing just being there and my youngest is perfectly happy to pay attention to how the field is set up before the game and get fist bumps (and a lump of gum) from the players as they warm up.

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We had great seats for the game too, Right behind the dugout just safe enough behind the screen. Draft League games seem to be pretty fast and crisp. Maybe not the best defense but the pitching is good and Trenton puts on a good show so you don’t realize that you’re at the lowest possible MiLB rung.

They really do deserve a full season team.

So we got a crisp 2–0 Trenton win in about two and a half hours. Frederick was held to one hit and aside from one string of three singles in a row, Trenton never manufactured much danger either. Might’ve been a little quicker but the last half of the game was a bit Spring Training-like with wholesale substitutions from both sides that made keeping score a bit of a pain.

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All in all a perfect night with the only blemish being that they sold out of Pork Roll by the third inning. My youngest got autographs from both Joe Oliver and Dennis Rasmussen. We’d gotten Oliver a couple years ago but since then my youngest had picked up a 1991 Score set that he’s working the same way my eldest is working 1991 Topps and getting cards signed by all the coaches that come through town. To-date that’s been Joe Oliver, Brian Harper, Frank Viola, Casey Candeale, Jeff Manto, Derrick May, Scot Bradley, and Dennis Rasmussen.* And he also got a practice ball and some scorekeeping practice.

*We’ve missed a few too including Devon White, Pete Incaviglia, and Jim Gott.

Was fun getting a chance to talk to Rasmussen and Oliver too. This level is very laid back and I can see they’re enjoying teaching. Rasmussen was wearing an MLBPAA shirt and seemed tickled that I both noticed and liked it. Oliver meanwhile was chilling in the dugout when one of the players noticed my youngest had a card and went to bring it to him. So he came over and chatted a bit.

Yeah I also got a handful of cards signed. Nice to add Rasmussen and I picked two Oliver cards with photos I really liked. I got Angel Sanchez after the game and that was fun too. He seemed a bit surprised that I had cards and when he was signing all the Spanish-speaking players crowded around to take a look and were excited to see them. Sanchez asked to keep a card as well.

I’m happy to have this one since it means that I finally have a 2011 Topps card in the album leaving me only a few years short of something that would truly blow my childhood mind. Since I wrote that post I’ve filled things in quite a bit and am now missing only 1996, 1999, 2002, and 2007 (and a non-reprint 1971) to have a signed Topps card for each year from 1957–2021.

Holy moly

So Jeff/Deetdedee has been teasing me for months about sending me some cool cards. I’ve been sort of half paying attention since while I see no need to pester people about sending me stuff for free, I also do like to be pretty open about making sure that they know that if I haven’t acknowledged receipt of something on Twitter then it means I haven’t received it yet.*

*If I don’t tweet or, for anyone not on Twitter, shoot an email saying thank you it doesn’t mean I’m ungrateful it means that it got eaten by the USPS. This has happened before.

Anyway, last week I found a bubble mailer in my mailbox and was not at all ready for the coolness that was inside. Were they worth the wait and the tease? Absolutely.

We’ll start with the oldest card, a 1926 Zeenut of Syd Hansen. At first I thought this might be a 100+ year old 1920 Zeenut and fill a hole in my type collection. it doesn’t match that design though plus if I loupe the year I can see that it’s supposed to be a 6. Also the background is the same background as the 1926 card I got earlier this year but by showing people sitting on the wall it’s a lot more interesting.

Still it’s always fun to get a Zeenut. I don’t ever want to get tired of these cards and the way they represent sort of a mirror world of professional baseball in the US.

Hansen meanwhile is not a particularly noteworthy player. He pitched only two seasons in San Francisco, giving up 31 earned runs in 47 innings over 20 games pitched.

This is the card Jeff had been teasing me about since last year. A batch of these hit eBay and quickly passed my comfort level in the bidding. Jeff was trying to get a few of them for his Seals/Lefty O’Doul collection and ended up winning a couple. He very generously offered to send me one and for a while I thought he’d sent it PWE and it had gotten lost in the mail.

This is a 1949 Sommer & Kaufmann promotional card of Gene Brocker. Brocker is another player who’s not particularly noteworthy but I do love this image as both a great catcher photo as well as how it shows off the single-deck Seals stadium.

Sommer & Kaufmann was a San Francisco shoe maker whose shoes show up in local museums and whose storefront was located at 838 Market Street. Looking at old photos a the SF library suggests that it’s not the same building at that location now.

Jeff also provided a pair of 1949 Kagome Round menkos from the Seals 1949 tour which I covered in a previous post. The card on the left is Jim Moran while the card on the right is Al Lien. Both of these guys played professionally for over a decade and stayed with the Seals until about the end of things in the mid 1950s.

Moran’s image looks A LOT like Lefty O’Doul but his name (in the pennant) is nothing like オドール. Also the big text across the card is the same katakana for Seals (シールス)  that shows up on the Melton bromide. Al Lien meanwhile gets a super-patriotic American flag with thirteen visible stripes but even more suggested.

As I understand things these are basically like the POGs of my youth. The backs feature the Kagome star and the usual menko hands as well as some nice border detailing. These cards make a fantastic addition to my Seals project and add even more color to the page.

Those weren’t the only menko in the package though as this pair of unidentified players (all text is just the team name with スターズ indicating Stars and 南海 indicating Nankai) was also in there.

Poking through TCDB suggests that these could be from the 1949 JRM 50 set which would mean that the Stars player is Makoto Kozuru while the Hawks player might be Tokuji Iida. Both of these are huge guesses though as it’s entirely possible that this set is uncatalogued.

The colors and text are a ton of fun and I really dig the comic book nature of these. I have a hard time buying any cards like these without a hook but my lord are they fun to own and look at.

Jumping a dozen years to 1961 and Jeff also sent me my first graded card. It’s coincidentally a duplicate of the only card from this set that I own* but the one I have is my usual beater condition with round corners, soft edges, and a pinhole. Definitely not used to see something like this pack fresh** but it’s nice to have no compulsion to crack the slab too.

*I just haven’t looked for more Giants plus the Merkle Pulls Boner card is (completely understandably) desirable to more than just card collectors.

**I’m basically incapable of distinguishing between anything higher than a 6.

And finally flashing forward to 2020 and the Topps Super 70s late-70s mashup design. I dig the mashup attempt of 1976’s borders, 1977’s position flag, 1978’s team name, and 1979’s player ribbon. It also feels somewhat sterile, partly because this color combination doesn’t feel right to me and  partly because I see the individual pieces more than a brand new design.

Fun to have a sample in the album. Very glad I didn’t buy any online packs of this.

Super cool stuff in general though Jeff. I’m not sure how to thank you properly.

Matchbooks

While I’ve been unable to find cards anywhere locally, Ebay is doing this thing where good deals on weird shit keep popping up. Previously it was Zeenuts and Venezuelans. This time it’s Diamond Matchbooks.

Diamond Matchbooks came out in the mid-1930s and are pretty cool. They feature a player* on one side and text about him on the other and, when printed well, can look pretty nice.  I’ve featured a pair of them earlier but this time I’m getting them with intent.

*Not just players, I’ve seen non-sport versions featuring cities, etc. too.

Aside from being neat little items, the matchbooks are affordable ways to collect vintage* cards of a player. Ernie Caddel has only one “real” football card and, as a beautiful National Chicle with that dreaded Rookie status attached to it, it runs in the hundreds of dollars. This 1938 matchbook, while not as nice, runs a couple orders of magnitude less and serves as a great addition to the Stanford album. It’s also nice that the text mentions Stanford plus the silver printing is pretty cool.

*I frequently use “vintage” to mean “playing-days.”

Caddel is an especially nice addition to the album because he actually went to Stanford on a baseball scholarship as a pitcher and only started playing football once he was on campus. I can find articles about him in the Stanfrod Daily archives but unfortunately can’t find any statistics for his time as a player.

I also don’t have a lot of Stanford pre-war so it’s always great to add another. I think I’m up to six cards now.

I also found a great small lot of baseball matchbooks. I wouldn’t have gotten this just except that Carl Hubbell was one of the included cards.

The whole group is fun though and it’s very nice to have an assortment of colors. The Hubbell and English cards are from  the 1935–36 “set” which makes this my oldest Hubbell card.* I love the back write-up which discusses both his 1933 and 1935 seasons as well as the fact that this essentially dates the card to releasing when Hubbell was at the height of his powers and in the midst of wining the National League MVP award.

*By a year over the Dixie lid.

English meanwhile only references 1935 on the back so it’s possibly from an earlier-printed group of these. It’s hard to call these a set of cards since they weren’t really cards. There was clearly a matchbook collecting ecosystem going on at the time though but I have no idea if there was a “collect them all” mentality or if it was just a living set of ephemera being printed on an otherwise disposable object.

I do like the amount of uniform detailing visible in English’s photo with the piped placket and wishbone C around the bear cub. The Jordan book also has a decent amount of uniform information in the photo albeit of a Braves uniform and not the Bees.* Kind of fun to have a card dating from the the five years they were the Bees but a shame that the photo still depicts the Braves.

*The fact that this lists the team name on both sides means it’s a 1937 release using a pre-1936 photo.

And that’s the latest Diamond Matchbooks news. I have six of them now including three Giants and one Stanford. They’re currently in Cardsavers and 4-pocket sheets but I can totally see switching to 6-pocket sheets if I come across more.

LOL

I mentioned at the end of my previous Somerset post about how some of the autograph seekers were bitching about Anthony Volpe. I downplayed it a little in that post but some of the complaints sort of stuck with me over the last couple of weeks.

When I was getting autographs at Trenton I don’t remember anyone complaining about guys signing or how they signed. Yes there were definitely guys seeking to sell signatures but in general things were pretty positive.

Somerset though either attracts a different breed of autograph seeker or the hobby has changed for the worse since 2019. A lot of the complaints about Volpe involved his signature and how he “ruins” balls and other items that he signs.  I understand being disappointed when a guys signs but demanding that he sign everything with a nice pristine signature when he’s trying to sign for as many kids as possible really rubs me the wrong way.

Marc Brubaker’s Volpe TTM

A large part of this though is due to the fact that Volpe has been a good TTM signer for a few years and is known for having a nice signature which stands out compared to so many poor signatures from the “never learned cursive in school” generation of players that he’s a part of. He’s also showing up at local signings* where his signature remains very nice. He’s set a high bar for what people should expect.

*At $99 per sig!

Still, he can take his time with TTMs and private signings and it’s completely unfair to compare those examples to something signed in the post-game crush as he makes his way down the tunnel carrying three bats, his glove, and batting helmet. I’m never going to complain about a guy who’s clearly trying to be good to the fans.

Then, last Wednesday, I got lucky at the Somerset game and got Volpe’s post-game rush signature. And now I understand why they were complaining.

Yeah… To be completely clear, I am not upset and still think that complaining about something like this makes you an entitled asshole. Ink is ink is ink. At the sam time I have to admit that my immediate response when I saw what he’d written was to start laughing. I find it to be absolutely hilarious and in many ways better than his “nice” signature since it comes with a ready-made story to accompany the “WTF is that” question this card will receive going forward.

I’ll be able to talk about all the entitled guys and how Volpe intentionally  hangs out at the end of the game to sign for as many people as possible. And I’ll be able to talk about how the game I got this Volpe went 2 for 3 with 2 walks, 2 stolen bases, and 2 runs scored.* I can see why he’s hyped since when he’s on the bases he’s the kind of electric player you’re always keeping on eye on.

*Second game in a row I’ve gone to where Somerset has spotted the visiting team like 5 runs early  and then pent the rest of the game clawing its way back to the win column. This time a big 3-run homer from Josh Breaux served the same purpose as Michale Beltre’s grand slam before a bases-loaded fielders choice in the bottom of the 8th drove in the eventual winning run as the Reading 3rd baseman attempted a 5-3 double play where he ran the ball to 3rd instead of either a 5-4-3 or a 5-2-3 double play and the batter just managed to beat the throw to first. Anyway. 2.5 hour game. Patriots won 7–6.

At the same time. Yeah. I can’t sugarcoat anything. This is not just one of the worst signatures I’ve encountered but it’s also one of the largest deltas between signature qualities I’ve seen. And that includes guys like Stan Musial who were signing on their deathbeds a decade after they couldn’t control a pen any more.

Still, into the album it goes and we’ll see if it amounts to anything more interesting than this story. He certainly has the tools to go far but I’ve seen enough AA baseball to know better than to assume anything.

Another funny thing about Somerset is how there’s a huge scrum of guys trying to get Volpe’s signature and no one seems to care about Sparky Lyle. Lyle seems to be available before every game and is extremely generous with his time as he signs and poses for photos with the one older fan who cares or the two kids whose dad knows what’s up.

I was the older fan this game. After getting a Yankee card TTM I decided to get a Phillies card this time and the only one I could find in my collection was a 1982. I’m slowly coming around to these being okay for autographing despite the facsimile sigs.

Hopefully I’ll get to be the dad too as I also have a pair of Lyle cards in my snapcase for my kids to use whenever we all get back to a game. No more 11:00am starts so our next visit will be for sure be either a Friday night or weekend day game.

Menkos!

I’ve been intrigued by Japanese baseball cards for a long time. Some, like the Kabaya Leafs, are mirror-universe amazing takes on designs I’m familiar with. But what I really like are the ones that are doing things completely differently than American cards. I jumped on a batch of mid-1970s Calbees because I love the photography and I’ve long sort of coveted some of the older menko cards.

Menkos were intended to be played with but they also depict all kinds of subjects. Sports, military, movie and TV characters are all fair game. The artwork is frequently something I’d call comic book style with bold colors and big text and the end result looks like nothing else I’ve seen.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) I’ve not dipped any toes in that water due to not having an obvious entry point. I have a hard time buying cards without attaching them to a project and, unlike my pre-war randomness, menkos tend to be sold individually instead of as sets. As a result I’m better able to resist their call.

However it turns out that there are menkos of the San Francisco Seals. In 1949 Lefty O’Doul took the San Francisco Seals on a Goodwill tour of Japan. O’Doul is in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame for his multiple trips to Japan which helped grow the game and in many ways led to the development of a professional league. The 1949 trip was a different sort of trip as it was intended to promote healing after World War 2.

The trip was clearly successful both in terms of drawing crowds but also as a bit of cultural diplomacy with a lot of ephemera still surviving today. The multiple different menko designs definitely caught my eye. Sometimes they’re super expensive. Other times they’re super reasonable. So it pays to wait. A couple weeks ago I finally found some that were going at a price I was ok with.

This menko features Cliff Melton, one of the few pitchers who made the trip.* It’s part of what’s categorized as the 1949 JCM-51 Seals Tour set. Not my favorite of the designs I’ve seen (I really like the Blue Back set) but it’s a great example of why I find menkos so appealing. Bright colors. Big bold text.** Cartoon images.

*He’s also a former Giant who shows up on Play Ball and Double Play cards in the early 1940s.

**メルトン is pronounced “meruton” which is the katakanization of “Melton.” Also, in the interests of translating text, 投手 is how you write “pitcher” in Japanese.

Many of the cards depict the seals in red and white striped uniforms that don’t at all match their home jerseys that year. Given that other cards show the pinstripes in blue and the Seals in red my guess is that the artists were just coloring things brightly. I wish the cap logo were a bit more clear but that’s really my only quibble.

The other Seals card I got is actually not a menko. It’s categorized as a bromide though by the 1940s these were no longer bromide photographic prints but just halftones which kept the bromide toning. This one is cut from the November 1949 issue of Yakyu Shonen magazine and not only features Cliff Melton as well but uses the photo that was used to create the menko artwork.

His menko isn’t a particularly good likeness but it’s clearly from the same image plus the text* confirms that it’s the same player.

*メルトン 投手 (シールス) or “Melton Pitcher (Seals)” underneath the image.

Looking at the Melton menko again mades me start thinking about why I like them so much more than American strip cards. It’s clearly not the accuracy of the drawings so all I can conclude is that the vibrancy of the color and text is the difference.

I took a quick peek through the other stuff that this seller had available and was unable to not impulse-add this card. I’ll leave it a little bit of a surprise and just link to a Google search for his name: 三船敏郎.

Yeah.

The price was right and how could I say no. Plus the artwork, while not exactly looking like him, has a certain charm to it with that rakishly misplaced hair that does capture a certain essence. I don’t know exactly when this is from but the seller says 1950s which feels right. It’s made by the Kagome Toy Company* and has a lot more going on on the back than most menkos I’ve seen as they aren’t known for having backs full of text.

*The 6-pointed star is their mark.

While I can struggle through figuring out what the front text says through context/guessing I have no idea about the backs. There are online tools to deciphering stokes but doing that figure by figure is more than I want to deal with—especially when even the single word on the back of the Melton menko looks like it says スペルコミ which doesn’t translate to anything but sounds like superukomi or super komi. I can’t image trying to do the full text backs on the other cards.

As it is I’m happy to just have a few menkos as well as be able to update my oldest Japanese cards to be 1949 now. Plus it’s nice to add a bit more color to my Seals page.

A mental health day

It’s been a rough couple of weeks. Spring break always throws me for a loop plus I’ve had some dental issues,* we’re planning for summer, omnipresent COVID uncertainty,** and the general state of the world between the Ukraine disaster and the Supreme Court getting even more illegitimate than I expected. All of which has left me feeling like I just need to find a way to meditate for a day.

*Nothing crazy but I had to get an extraction.

**Some local schools are reverting to mandatory masking due to local spread.

Yesterday I got my daily email from the Somerset Patriots and noticed that the game was scheduled for 11:00am. I had had this circled on my calendar ever since schedules were released but have been so out of things that I hadn’t even noticed it coming up.  Since I haven’t managed to get to any games anywhere since I froze my ass off at Princeton in March* I made the quick decision that what I really needed was to hit another baseball game.

*I do need to get to more Princeton games but kid sports have started to interfere there plus our weather has been crap.

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So I made the drive up to Somerset and confirmed that yes, I really did need to hit another baseball game. I was a bit worried in the first couple innings as the teams combined for 9 runs in about an hour of gameplay. New Hampshire jumped out to a 5–0 lead through an Earl Weaver (after putting guys on via walk and HBP) and a two-run shot before Somerset loaded the bases (via dropped 3rd strike, walk, and infield single) and Michael Beltre hit a grand slam to turn it back into a game.

Things settled down after that though. Somerset strung a bunch of hits together in the fourth—scoring four runs and threatening more before running themselves into an inning-ending double play—but we went from what looked like a possible four-hour game to one that was the standard three-hour length.

The 9th inning got kind of scary though since the Somerset closer quickly gave back two runs via another two-run bomb and then let another two guys reach base (both via bunt!) with only one out. Luckily New Hampshire ran themselves into a game-ending double play and Somerset hung on for the 9–8 victory.

Not super crisp but decent baseball. Also very nice to see this level of minor league ball again too with players who are all prospects dreaming of the show but which are also mostly guys who have a legit chance of at least a cup of coffee.

I decided to hang around afterwards for a bit and test my luck with autographs. It feels like forever since I’ve done this. Getting coaches to sign is easy. Players? I last did this in 2019. The big name in Somerset is Anthony Volpe. I did not get his autograph though he did use my pen to sign for a dozen kids. He seems to be a reliable signer after the games but (correctly) prioritizes kids.

I did however get the grand slam hero of the game, Michael Beltre, on my ticket stub. The perfect memento for a day I sorely needed.

I also got a few other Somerset prospects. Josh Breaux is currently injured and didn’t play. Nor was Luis Medina, the only guy on he Yankees 40-man roster, scheduled to start (though it was his birthday so we all wished him happy birthday after the game). Blake Perkins didn’t get into the game but Jeisson Rosario made a few nice catches in left field including getting to a ball that the baserunners in the ninth didn’t expect him to reach.

The autographing was mostly fun. Good weather and a few little kids to bring smiles to everyone’s faces. A couple of the older guys who are clearly in it for the money got on my nerves a little bit as they bitched about Volpe being a punk because he tries to duck them and has started signing AVolpe or AV now. But for the most part it’s still fans who go to the game and do this for a hobby.

There’s another 11am game in a couple weeks and I hope I don’t need it as much as this one. Yes I’m planning on going even if I don’t need it.

April Returns

April picked up where March left off with a flurry of returns in the beginning of the month and a couple nice spurts as my full pipeline paid off.

The first return of the month as Gary Nolan in 15 days. I found more duplicates from my 1978 set build but I had to send Nolan a Reds card as well since he was one of the primary pitchers for the Big Red Machine. It’s kind of amazing that he even got a 1978 card though since he retired in 1977.

On the topic of 1978 duplicates I also got a 15-day return from Stan Bahnsen aka the Bahnsen Burner. he most interesting thing when I looked him up was learning about and recoiling from Chuck Tanner’s pitcher usage in the 1970s. As much as modern bullpenning drives me nuts apparently I respond even worse to old-school “blow out your aces’s arms by pitching them as often as possible.”

Barry Foote was, for a while, a better catching prospect than Gary Carter before settling into a role as a career backup catcher. HE did however put together an eight-RBI game in 1980 which is a pretty cool accomplishment. This card was beat up when I sent it and didn’t get USPS’d in its 10-day round trip.

I got a nice 14-day return from Ed Ott who was a bit of a Pirates fan favorite before the Tony Peña years. I don’t normally send 1982 cards but with the different team I figured it would be more fun getting it signed than letting it just sit in a box.

Bobby Mitchell was the Trenton Thunder manager when I first started going to games. I wasn’t collecting autographs then (which means I missed out on Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres) but it was nice to write him and thank him for being part of what became a fun thing to do with my kids. He sent this back in 12 days.

Okay this is a fun one. While I’m not an A’s fan and didn’t even like them much when I was a kid, I also find myself remembering those late-80s, early-90s teams kind of fondly now. They were good and the players on them were definitely some of the big names in the Bay Area. So while I didn’t collect them much as a kid I definitely enjoy getting autographs from guys like Dave Stewart, Jose Canseco, and Terry Steinbach now.

Dennis Eckersley is definitely one of the key guys from those teams and he was as close as you could get to a force of nature in a few of those seasons. I had ton of options to send him but I went with a nice action image and a nice portrait. Very very happy to get these back in 15 days.

Mickey Weston appeared in five Major League seasons but never reached double digit games in any of them. He got the most work in 1989 and 1990 and ended up on cards from my peak collecting years a a result. He sent this back in 46 days and included a tract card as well.

I got a nice 5-return day mid-April with a great range of cards including one of my longest ever returns. This isn’t quite Max Venable’s length but Andrew Lorraine got a Stanford custom back to me in 664 days. I was just a kid when he started pitching at Stanford but his parents used to sit by us at Sunken Diamond. I got his autograph on the season ticket when he was a junior since he was one of the most-promising prospects that season.

A 27-day return from Darin Ruf brought some more spring training returns. His roster card is the always-fun dugout celebration but I especially like the card of him pitching. I hope he enjoyed it too; since he kept one of each custom I think he did. When I made it last year I was still in “this is going to be this kind of season” thinking and I could not have been more wrong.

Jim Kern is kind of the original “Fear the Beard” and even now has a great look for baseball cards. I had an extra 1981 but his 1982 photo captured the bear glory so well I had to send it too. These came back in 21 days.

Kern’s nickname is the wonderful “Amazing Emu” and he’s selling a book about his experiences with the Rangers. Given his status as a character in the game the books probably  decent read. I’m also wondering if anyone’s sent him an emu card to get autographed.

I’m not actively collecting father/son autograph combos but I decided it would be fun to send a duplicate card to John Mayberry Sr. and include a custom I made of his son. I’d watched Junior play at Stanford and have customs printed and ready to go if he ever starts signing. Senior kept the custom and sent my card back in 10 days.

And the last card of that 5-return day was the custom I made for SABR’s 2022 Burdick Award Winner. James Beckett is probably the most controversial pick we’ve made so far. He sits right on that fine line between promoting a common culture and creating a hegemony. For my generation his name and price guides bring back a ton of fond nostalgic memories and I’ve met countless people online who share those experience. Which is great.

The flip side of this is that many of my generation also still feels like there are certain rules to collecting—many of which have to do with value and playing the market. As much as Beckett is responsible for so much of what I loved about the hobby as a kid, he’s also responsible for why I was able to walk away. As an adult, I’ve chosen to focus on the good stuff and how he captured the zeitgeist of the excitement behind cards for over a decade and was happy to thank him for that.

It only took him 10 days to send my card back plus he included an extra 2005 Fan Favorites as well.

I’m pretty sure every rookie/prospect from 1990–1992 resonates with me. I was in junior high and we were all tuned in to every player who could be “invested” in. It’s only fitting that my first return after the Beckett return was one of those guys. Not a “dated rookie” with a ton of hype, just a good solid ballplayer who had a ton of potential. Sadly he’s one of those guys who just couldn’t stay healthy. I was happy to get these back in 33 days though.

I found myself with a few 1984 duplicates and decided to try sending those out. I don’t have a lot of 1984s signed since I’m thin on everything which predates 1986. Frank LaCorte began his career as a starter but found a good home in the Astros bullpen. He signed this in 12 days.

A 12-day return from Jack O’Connor added another signed 1984 card to the collection. For guy who played in parts of six major league seasons he didn’t get a lo of cards so I’m glad I had on of his available.

Back to 1986s this time with a 12 day return from Dave Van Gorder. He’s another guy who despite a handful of years in Major League Baseball only has cards in a couple of years. This time though one of the cards is from the first set which I collected and so all those cards and players bing me right back to my first year in the hobby.

I decided to send a request to Clay Dalrymple to thank him for being part of the Old Timer’s letterhead I got when I was ten. I need to have at leas one signed Phillies card from that group and this one looks really nice signed. He sent this back in 10 days.

I’m not sure how the only Jim Slaton duplicate I had was from 1978 but I’m glad I had one of him as a Brewer since he’s the franchise leader in wins and innings pitched. He sent this back in 16 days.

The same day I got the Jim Slaton return I got another 16-day return on a 1978 card from Bill Atkinson. I’ve come to really appreciate the 1978 design with autographs and the handful of action cards like this one work especially  well signed.

Mike Caldwell is one of my favorite autograph stories. He was the coach of the Campbell Fighting Camels who cinderella’d their way into the NCAA tournament in 1990. I managed to track down his 1976 Topps card before their game at Sunken Diamond and it was a lot of fun to surprise him with it after the game.

He’s a good TTM guys so I figured it would be fun to thank him for being so cool 32 years ago. I figured it made sense to include a Brewers card seeing how he’s one of the more successful pitchers in their history. He didn’t respond to my note but did sign both cards in 32 days.

I wasn’t able to keep my pipeline full over the course of this month so things ind of trickled off ion the last couple weeks. A combination of he kids being on spring break, getting my 2022 Giants Customs up and running, and dental issues ended up taking my focus. I’ll hopefully get up and running again soon and with any luck other returns will continue to straggle in.