Fantasy Life

I received a copy of Tabitha Soren’s Fantasy Life for Christmas. Fantasy Life tracks the careers of ten members of the Oakland A’s 2002 draft class—the Moneyball class—as they make their way through the minors. Most of them top out at AA or AAA. A couple got a cup of coffee in the bigs. Two—Nick Swisher and Mark Teahen—had decent Major League careers.

It’s set up as a scrapbook of sorts with many different kinds of photos—both in terms of technique and content. As a photographer who shoots with multiple kinds of cameras and lenses it’s nice to see a photobook like this which is all over the place yet still comes together. Because the different types of photos—including tintypes from screenshots—aren’t labelled* I don’t look at them for what they depict but instead recognize the sense of place that they describe.

*There is an index in the back but it’s clear that the photo identification isn’t part of the project.

Minor League Baseball is its own subculture of baseball as a local phenomenon coupled with baseball for people who love baseball. When I go to a game and wear a Minor League cap, I end up I conversations with other fans about where else I’ve seen games and what the experience was like. It doesn’t matter who the cap is of, just wearing one marks me as a certain kind of fan who likes the smaller parks, watching the games, and seeing guys before they’ve made it big.

Looking through the photos in the book and I recognize so many glimpses into the Minor League experience. The way things are a bit run down. The way the players are almost all uniformly young. The way the stands are close and you can see a lot more of the mechanics of what it takes to stage a ballgame. As an autograph collector I’m used to arriving at stadiums early and staying late and seeing it go through its quieter moments when few people are around.

The games aren’t about the details and they all blur together. In a good way. Summer nights. Saturday afternoons. Sitting back. Watching a game. Keeping score. Eating a hot dog. As much as it’s a fantasy life for the players who are all chasing a dream, it’s a bit of a fantasy for the fans too where there’s often no better place to spend three hours of the summer.

This book isn’t new and I’ve wanted to take a good look through it for a while. It is however especially interesting to view it right now in the aftermath of the whole reorganization of the Minor Leagues and with almost 20 years of hindsight on the Moneyball revolution.

We’ve had a couple decades of ownership treating players increasingly as interchangeable parts where the right mix of net velocity or OPS is all that’s needed and stardom is in fact a liability because it increases a player’s salary. This isn’t a knock on the Moneyball ethos as much as it’s an observation about what how something that was great for a small-market team without a lot of money became a way for larger market teams to become cash cows for their owners.

Traditionally, baseball teams made money for their owners when they were sold. Money and cash flow is of course always an issue but you didn’t run a team in order to get richer. The past decade though has been all about maximizing a team’s yearly profit, often a the expense of the product on the field. It’s not about who the best players are or

We’ve also just cut over forty Minor League teams as a cost-saving measure without any thought about what that means to the communities which support those teams and the hundreds of players who are being cast out of professional baseball.

Yes I know baseball is a business. But this thing where it’s behaving in a way that doesn’t understand how its product consists of people who fans are supposed to connect with is hugely dismaying. That Soren isn’t a baseball fan but kind of intuits exactly this is what makes the book so fascinating.

She’s tagging along with Michael Lewis and taking photos of the games, and ostensibly the players. But it’s clear that her interests aren’t with the on-field action. She likes the moments in between the action that really captures the experience of being at the ball park. Little details like the dents on a metal door or discarded gum wrappers on the ground. The way that players sit on the bench waiting for something to happen. The way that fans behave in the stands.

Baseball is a game of waiting and being and Soren recognizes immediately how important the human side of it all is. How the minors are a grind and dream deferred while simultaneously being a fantasy where everyone exists as pure potential. Where the games are there to be enjoyed on their own without the weight of standings and playoff positioning that accompanies the major league games.

She captures the way that the players are playing their hearts out. Training as much as they can. Getting by on their meager per-diems. The game action doesn’t look fun but the interviews with each player reveal how much  they love the game. Especially in the minors where it’s never just a job. There’s a sense of loss that accompanies each of the players’ retirements. Not because they didn’t have the career they wanted but rather that retiring meant that they had to give up the game.

That sense of loss really hits hard since I know that hundreds of players were essentially cut from professional baseball this winter. Guys who weren’t yet ready to give up on playing a game they loved now have nowhere to play. Maybe there will be more independent leagues but my guess is that a lot of them are stuck in the wilderness.

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.

December returns

I wasn’t expecting anything fancy in December since as I’ve mainly been treading water and sending out 1978 and 1979 duplicates. After a couple years of sending out Giants and Stanford guys I’ve run out of duplicates of those and am now looking through other duplicate piles instead. Still, I got a few great returns all the same.

A 20-day return from Jimmy Howarth started the month off after a week of nothing. Howarth played parts of four seasons with the Giants and was primarily a pinch hitter. This request also gave me an excuse to upgrade this diamond-cut card.

Mike Garman in 13 days brought the first 1978 duplicate return. He pitched throughout the 1970s with a few good seasons for St. Louis and Los Angeles. He had four postseason appearances with the Dodgers in 1977 and didn’t give up any runs.

The same day I got Garman I also received a 13-day return from Royle Stillman. Also on a 1978 duplicate which happens to be his only solo Topps card. Stillman only played in parts of three seasons, unfortunately none of them with Kansas City.

An 8-day return from Dion James brought some signed cards on duplicates from my set builds (and one from my endless supply of 1988 Topps duplicates). I’ve come to the conclusion that I should only build sets where I like using the duplicates for signatures and I like how both the 1989 Donruss and 1990 Upper Deck look.

James is also a name I remember distinctly from my youth. Going to Candlestick meant that I saw a lot of NL West teams. Which means that a lot of those players resonate with me as well.

James put a lot of work into this return. In addition to printing out a letter for me, he used his own envelope and peeled off my address label and stamp to send everything back.

One of my few 1979 duplicates turned into a 9-day return from Jim Umbarger. He spent four years in the majors, most with Texas though he spent part of the 1977 season with Oakland.

I’m still sending out 1986 Topps duplicates though. A 9-day return from Rick Manning added another peak-1986 portrait to the collection. Manning has been broadcasting games since 1990 which makes him one of the longest-serving broadcasters in the game.

Adding Giants pitching coach Norm Sherry added another card to my 1989 project. I don’t have any of his playing-days cards but this Mothers Cookies card is perfectly fine. Part of me wants to try and get it signed by the other three living members but I think I’m going to keep this in the binder as it is. Sherry signed in a relatively-quick 11 days.

I got a longer, 40-day, return from former Stanford pitcher Mike Gosling. He had a nice six-year career in the majors and sent me a fun note thanking me for the extras. I always send three customs and while I feel guilty when guys send back all three signed, getting thank you notes for sending the extras is why I keep doing it.

Former pitcher Tom House in 8 days is another 1979 duplicate. House’s legacy is likely to be his role as a pitching/throwing mechanics specialist as he was one of the first coaches to really break down how to throw well. He’s also notable for catching Hank Aaron’s 715th home run when he was in the Braves bullpen.

Rick Cerone is another 1978 duplicate. He only signs one per request so I didn’t add a card from when I was a kid. Older is always better plus it’s fun to get a first-year Blue Jay. This came back in 20 days.

A 65-day return from Joel Youngblood was a fun one. While he’s famous for getting a hit for two different teams in one day, for me he’s one of those guys who reminds me of my first game. In that game, he pinch hit in the 9th inning and ended up going 2 for 3 with 2 doubles and 2 walks as he played 3 innings each at 2nd base and shortstop.

Versatile Royals pitcher Doug Bird brought another 1979 duplicate to my collection. Bird was a somewhat notable player for the Royals in the 1970s and I kind of love that 1970s shaggy look he’s got going on. He signed in 17 days.

I haven’t sent out a lot of more-recent vcards but I saw some returns from Angel Pagan and decided to go for it. 15 days later I got my card back. It’s always fun to thank an Even Years guy for helping take the Giants to a place I never expected them to be.

The week of Christmas brought a contender for return of the year. 45 days after I sent out the signed Cory Snyder cover, Will Clark returned it for my first multiple-signed TTM item. I hope he and Snyder enjoyed this request as much as I did since getting this signed was one of the things I’d sort of fantasized about when I started digitizing all the Giants Magazine covers from my youth.

That week I also received a 21-day return from Don Kirkwood. He was mainly an Angel but I sent a 1978 duplicate featuring him in an airbrushed White Sox uniform. Those uniforms are so wild that I don’t mind the airbrushing too much.

I probably should’ve waited until I got the Norm Sherry return before sending to Bill Fahey since it would’ve been nice to get both of them on the Mother’s Cookies card but I have a hard time sending out already-signed items.*

*It was tough as it was to send the Cory Snyder cover to Will Clark

I already have a couple Fahey autographs but none of them featuring him as a Giant. Since he’s on the 1989 Leaders card I sent that to him and the Mother’s card to Sherry. These came back in a relatively quick 23 days.

I wrapped up my year with a nice 18-day return from Jim Perry. As a Giants fan, I always knew him as Gaylord’s brother and never really appreciated how he was not only a good pitcher but even won the Cy Young Award a couple years before his brother did. This is also a fantastic TTM card with the DIY traded and mistrim giving the card a ton of character before adding the signature and incription.

January should be pretty light. I didn’t mail out much at all in the last half of December due to the holidays, not wanting to overburden the post office, and not wanting to dump requests on anyone in those weeks. But who knows, I’ve got a decent amount of stuff out there still.

Christmas cards

Catching up on a few more PWEs which accompanied holiday wishes. It’s getting to the point where I’m considering making hobby-oriented holiday cards to send out to people I’ve traded with over the past year.

The first card came from Mark Armour and contained a 1977 Willie Mays exhibit. This is a nice reprint of the 1947–1966 era exhibit photo and even feels like it has better tonality than a lot of the vintage exhibits do. The border is kind of goofy though and the less said about the apostrophe catastrophe in the bio text the better. Still this is the kind of thing I enjoy adding to the album and it’ll slide in right next to a bunch of Jeff’s bycatch.

Mark also included a custom card of himself. This is also something I’ve thought about doing but have never gotten around to. A lot of traders have their own custom cards that they toss in like business cards and I enjoy keeping those around.

A few days later I found an envelope from Tim in my mailbox. Nothing big, just an insert from 2020 Opening Day which doubled the number of 2020 Opening Day cards in my collection. This is one of those products that I buy for my kids and stay out of for myself.

This isn’t a critique of the product. If anything it’s a critique of how flagship has effectively pushed my kids away. Neither of my kids wanted a complete set of flagship this year for Christmas. They’ve both realized it’s not the set for them. Too expensive and not really any fun.

A pack of flagship costs like $5 now and that’s a lot of money to pay for a bunch or guys they’ve never heard of. Opening Day at least is mostly players they know. And yes Major League Baseball does a lousy job marketing guys, but Topps also creates checklists that are dominated by rookie cards instead of guys who are actually playing.

So they’ve gravitated toward Opening Day and Big League and I let them enjoy those products. As a result, I don’t get much Opening Day so if it comes in via trade I’m happy to slide it into the binder.

A PWE from Lanny brought me a single 2002 Kenny Lofton card. This might not look like much (though it’s one of Lofton’s few Giants cards) but it’s actually part of Topps’s trainwreck of a Traded set where someone at Topps decided that intentionally shortprinting the first 100 cards was a smart idea.

It was not. I have heard of way too many people who swore off all Traded/Update sets for years just because the 2002 set was so bad. The shortprinted cards meanwhile are impossible to find yet no one actually wants to spend serious money for them.

A perfect storm of awfulness which I would avoid completely except that I wanted the complete 2002 team set for World Series reasons. This Lofton completes the set and I no longer have to think about 2002 Topps Traded ever again.

I also got an envelope from Jason with a couple Giants first basemen. A couple retired numbers even. No it’s not just two 1991 Will Clark cards, these were the packaging surrounding the card Jason intended to send me.

The two Will Clarks were sandwiching this beauty which is not only a great example of the National Chicle Diamond Stars artwork with its solid blocks of color and industrial backgrounds* but represents the first Giants retired number from before the modern era of baseball cards to enter my collection.

*It still doesn’t compare to the South African United Tobacco cards though. Also I remain confused by the scoreboard listing visitors underneath Giants.

One of my long-term collecting goals has been to try and get a card of each Giants retired number from their playing years. I have all the obvious ones who played during the years when Topps was the card of record. Irvin, Mays, Cepeda, McCovey, Marichal, Perry, Clark, and Bonds* all have multiple Topps cards as Giants to the point where I have multiple cards of all even players like Irvin who I never expected to own any cards of.

*Interesting to me to realize that all besides Bonds of those debuted in MLB with the Giants. And yes I’m going to be distinguishing between MLB and “major leagues” from now forward.

McGraw, Mathewson, Terry, Ott, and Hubbell though were always going to be tougher. Fewer cards in general, and the affordable ones are often super ugly in terms of design* or just through being well loved. The Diamond Stars cards of Terry, Ott, and Hubbell are some of the more-desirable options out there and I’m astounded at Jason’s generosity at sending me my first one form this set.

*/me waves at M. P & Company.

Thanks a lot guys. I hope you’ve enjoyed this holiday season and I hope next year brings better tidings all around.

PWE roundup

A roundup of PWEs which didn’t warrant individual posts by themselves.

Right after Thanksgiving I received a PWE from Kenny with a single Brandon Belt Chrome card. It was nice to add my first 2020 Chrome card. While I’m a team collector I’m not at all interested in getting complete team sets of most releases. Instead, for most of those sets I’m a team-themed type collector. One card from each set is fine and adds variety to the binder.

Especially this year when a pack of four Chrome cards was selling for $10. This is in no way a $2.50 card—heck it’s not a $1 card—so I’m much happier getting my sample via PWE.

In mid-December I received another couple PWEs. The first was from Matt Prigge and consisted of a page’s worth of Jeffrey Hammonds cards. In early December Matt gave a shout out on his Twitter feed that he’d send an envelope’s worth of Brewers cards to the first handful of guys who named a random Brewer.

Instead of the results being people naming Robin Yount of Paul Molitor, it turned into non-Brewers fans mentioning truly-random Brewers who they actually collect. For me that answer is Hammonds. I watched him at Stanford when I was a kid and he was a dynamic player with a ton of promise. A centerfielder who was great defensively and could get on base and disrupt pitchers with his speed.* He was one of those prospects I was hoping to have gotten in on the ground floor with.

*Back when baseball cared about such things.

His pro career was not what I’d hoped it would be. Flashes of greatness for a couple months and then he’d pick up a knock and struggle for a year or so as he tried to regain his form. He was still good enough to play in MLB for thirteen years though. I don’t try and collect all his cards but, like Mussina, he’s one of the guys who I was most invested in from day one and I always enjoy picking up his cards.

My second PWE is completely different. This was a random act of kindness from Jeff Smith who had ordered a custom Lefty O’Doul card from All Eras Sports and decided to thank me for a Lefty custom I’d sent him by ordering an extra copy for me. Or actually two copies since one of them is an acetate “card.” I scanned both, and treated the acetate as a slide. It’s on the right and shows a lot more detail.

These are very well done. Printed professionally and the acetate, while something I’ve always side-eyed, is a fantastic solution to what to do if you don’t feel like making card backs. Also lots of nice details that I appreciate with the Joe DiMaggio photo and the detail from the Seals jersey I’ve coveted for over a decade.

Thanks guys! Very cool stuff.

November returns

Was not expecting a huge month and things kind of died down toward the end whatwith holiday stuff. Plus there was no way it could compare to last month anyway. But as always some fun returns. Where last month was interesting characters, this month has a decent amount of photos I just like.

Sometimes I have to send a card because I love the photo to much. This Ron Pruitt is one such example. One of my favorite photos in the entire set and I had to write to tell him as much. As cool as getting your own baseball card must be for a player, it must be fantastic to get one which features a quality photo. I was very happy to get this back in just 8 days.

It’s been sort of interesting to me to see people complain about how starting pitchers can only go maybe 6 innings now since I remember the 2002 Giants and how Dusty Baker used his bullpen that year. The routine the entire season was to get the starter through 6 innings and then use three one-inning guys to finish the game.

Tim Worrell was the 8th inning guy that season and I remember being the most comfortable when he was pitching. it’s also always nice to add a few members of that 2002 season. His return took 70 days.

One of my favorite Giants Magazine covers was this Will’s World photoshoot. I’d love to get it signed by both Will Clark and Cory Snyder so I sent a couple to Snyder first. He signed two and send them back in 37 days. I’ve only scanned one since they other was immediately packaged up to send to Clark.

I also tossed in Snyder’s Olympics card because I enjoy getting the Olympics cards signed and I’m very happy to add another of these to the collection.

In addition to being a Hall of Famer, it was nice to get an 11-day return from Whitey Herzog. I’m no Cardinals fan. In fact I kind of hate them and still carry some scars from that 1987 National League Championship Series. At the same time, I’ve always liked and appreciated Whiteyball—especially with the way current baseball strategy has gone. Getting on base, aggressive baserunning, good defense… All a much more entertaining way of playing the game than the current three true outcomes approach.

I went to my first baseball game in 1986 and as a result was actually interested in the post season that year. The 1986 World Series was thus the first real baseball I remember watching. Jesse Orosco had a great series that year and as a result is one of the first players I remember being impressed by (also on that list Oil Can Boyd). He’s a super-fast signer and sent this back in only 7 days.

This is actually an October return but it only arrived at my house in November. I sent to Jim Willoughby way back when I started TTMing and was using my parents’ address since I was in non-permanent housing. They were surprised to receive a return envelope since the last ones they got were in May. At 494 days this is my longest return now.

Willoughby’s actually from Gustine and is one of those guys who went to college (Cal in this case) while he was a professional player. While his bio states that he was a Yankee fan it must’ve been nice to be a member of his local big league club while he was in college.

A 10-day return from Summer Sanders is the first autograph I’ve gotten that has impressed my wife. This is a fun one to add to the Stanford album and I definitely remember watching her race in the 1992 Barcelona games. This is also the first Allen & Ginter card I’ve gotten signed. Still not my thing as a set but they do work very well for autographs.

I also sent a few more customs out this month and began to get a few back. Joe Borchard didn’t keep any and returned everything in 10 days. He’s another player I remember watching when I was in college (both in baseball and football). I actually remember him more as a football player because whenever he was in the game I knew we’d be running a naked bootleg or something. But he was a decent power-hitting outfielder who hit the longest home run for the White Sox.

One of the reasons I stopped doing the autograph thing when I was in high school was because it felt weird to be prospecting with people I would potentially be in school with. Now though it doesn’t feel weird to be sending these out to peers or guys who are younger than me.

Another return of Stanford customs. Another player who didn’t keep any. Jeremy Guthrie turned these around in 9 days. I’d gotten a pair of cards signed by him in my first big return day but I’m slowly putting together a signed set of these 1978ish customs and everyone I can add is a lot of fun. The current collection is looking really good.

While I unfortunately do not have Glenn Hubbard’s legendary 1984 Fleer card I did have a bunch from across his career. I selected my oldest card as well as two from when I remember seeing him (both as a visitor at Candlestick and with the A’s). He sent these back in 18 days.

On the topic of legendary cards I did get to send Jose Lind his 1992 Studio card. No idea what’s going on but I had to send it despite the black jacket. I also picked a couple other cards I liked. Both Lind and Hubbard are defensive players I remember watching as a kid. Lind lives in Puerto Rico now but this return only took a week.

I started going through my 1970s duplicates and started pulling guys who I remembered from when I was collecting in the late-80s. A 13 day return from Scott McGregor was the first return from that endeavor. He’s one of those cool single-franchise players who stands out in the modern game. He also was a good pitcher for a long time and performed admirably in multiple World Series.

Toby Harrah is another player who I had cards of in both the 1970s and 1980s. The 1976 is actually a card from Cliff but the 1987 is one I remember from my youth. This makes it look like Harrah stayed with the Rangers for over a decade (he actually started with the Senators) but he spent the better part of the 1980s with other teams before finishing his carer back in Texas. He sent these back in 18 days.

Jim Clancy though did spend over a decade with the Blue Jays before bouncing around a couple of teams in the last few seasons of his career. There’s something about his 1978 card that I just really like. It might just be the fill flash (now I have to think if I’ve seen any cards using fill flash before 1978) but there’s also the pose and the way he’s smiling instead of being serious. I also like how his 1988 card mirrors the 1978 pose but is an action image. These came back in 15 days.

Another 15-day return brought a pair of cards from Bob Bailor. These aren’t a decade apart but they feel a decade apart to me. I could buy packs back to 1980 when I was a kid. Which meant that 1979 felt like it was from another age. The rare times they fell from repacks made them treasure to me. 1986 meanwhile was still circulating en masse when I was a kid and I accumulated a couple hundred of them without even trying.

Last return of the month is from former College Player of the Year David McCarty in 27 days. He was fun to watch at Stanford and I had high hopes for his professional career. It never took off like I hoped but he put together an interesting decade in the majors as a bit of a utility guy who played first base, outfield, and pitcher. I could probably have picked better cards here for showing off a signature but these are the duplicates I had.

All in all a decent number of returns. Things looks to be pretty quiet for the rest of the year but we’ll see what happens next month.

Nachos Grande’s Ginter Bracket

A couple weeks ago I received a notification that Chris (Nachos Grande) was sending me a package. I was very confused. He’s been running a lot of cheap fun breaks but I’ve not signed up for any in a long time.* And I couldn’t think of why else he would be sending me cards.

*This is a reflection of my collection becoming large enough that it no longer makes sense for me to buy into a break for the off chance I get one card I don’t have.

When the package arrived it all made sense. Way back in July he ran an Allen & Ginter mini set bracket on his blog. I took part because the insert minis are really the only thing I actually like about Ginter. I was a bit disappointed that the winner was a baseball set but it was a fun way to learn about all the different mini sets Topps has created. I very much like the social studies and science based sets and how they remind me of how interesting card collecting used to be.

Chris had multiple contests set up to reward people who were voting and participating and I ended up on a list of prize winners. Since I wasn’t participating for the prizes (and given everything else that’s gone on in the world since July) I promptly forgot about expecting a mailing. It took him a while but my prizes arrived a week and a half ago.

The list of offerings was all kinds of stuff. Sets, relic cards, autographs, etc. When I submitted my list of what I preferred I think I prioritized the autographs. Despite being somewhat lower on the pick list  it looks like other people wanted other items since I ended up with two of he autographed cards.

The Trevor May framed mini is pretty cool. I’ve never handled a Ginter framed mini card before. It’s an interesting object with the card floating loose in the middle of a cardboard frame and two plastic sheets on each side to create a nice little display. Much to my surprise the resulting object isn’t that thick and in fact fits just fine in a 9-pocket page.

I’ve been a bit curious about these since I wasn’t sure how they were manufactured nor how they handled. They’re definitely neat little cards and I very much like them over relics. I’m less impressed at the plastic feeling since it seems at odds with Ginter’s overall brand but there’s no other way to do this kind of thing.

Griffin Jax meanwhile is still in the Minors. He bounced between AA and AAA in 2019 and scored a non-roster invite to Spring Training last season. No call-up to the Majors but he remains on the bubble.

He’s more interesting though for what he’s going through to play baseball. As an Air Force Academy graduate, he’s been jerked around a bit by the military in terms of being allowed to pursue a baseball career instead of being active duty. It’s very interesting to note that he can’t be paid by the Twins and is still fulfilling his reservist duties while playing baseball.

Chris also tossed in a dozen or so Giants cards to “make up” for being so late with the package. Definitely not something he had to do especially since this was a free package anyway but I’m certainly not complaining.

A lot of these I have already so they’ll go on the duplicate pile that I’m using to create piles for my kids. My youngest for example will love the Metal Mark Gardner and the more 2013 Heritage World Series cards I can give them the happier they’ll be.

There are however a handful of new ones that I’m very happy to add to the album. The 1998 Upper Deck Darryl Hamilton doubles the number of Giants cards I have form that set. As does the Pacific Bill Mueller. The Jesse Foppert is new to me as well and reminds me of a name I’ve not even thought of in decades. He was such a prospect back in the day. The Upper Deck Goudey Noah Lowry is an interesting retro design. I don’t know if I hate it or love it but I like that it didn’t try to make the photo a fake painting. And the Pinnacle Buster Posey is a fun addition from Panini’s first year back in the hobby.

Very cool stuff Chris and thanks for both the  cards and running the bracket/contest.

To Be Eleven Again

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

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

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

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

*Organized as I described in my mission creep post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chromos desde Artie

It took me a while but I finally sent a thank you note with a custom Keith Hernandez card to Artie (who’s now blogging over at SABR). He promptly asked me if I was interested in some of his extra 1994 Topps Spanish cards.

Apparently he grabbed a huge lot of commons and ended up with tons of duplicates. No stars but enough for a team set of Giants minus Clark/Bonds/Williams and the All Stars. And yes I was interested. I actually had a handful of them already (including Matt Williams) but I’m a sucker for anything Spanish-language and it’s great to be close to a full team set.

Just showing the backs since the fronts are indistinguishable from base 1994. I also don’t have much to add over my SABR post so I’ll just reiterate that one reason why I love bilingual cards is how they remind me of how I learned Spanish via watching soccer on TV and listening to baseball on the radio. Sports vocab can be very different than school vocab.

Also, the Giants had a lot of guys whose last names started with B this year. Seven on this page makes eight including Bonds.

I appreciate the full-color backs and action photos on this design. I do not appreciate the way the card numbering moves card-to-card. Nor do I like it when said number is not located in the corner. That said, as a photographer, I’m glad that Topps has thought about what direction the player is looking and letting him look into the card.

Last page includes the Matt Williams card I already had as well as my Orlando Cependa Leyendas card. Looking at the Steve Scarsone card I noticed that Topps included a Rookie Card badge under the logo. I want to say that this is the first year Topps denoted regular base cards as being Rookie™ cards. I much prefer this method to using the RC badge on the card fronts.

¡Muchas gracias Artie!

Custom PWE from John and a New Mini-PC

John Racanelli (@phitter72) is a good Twitter follow and a fellow blogger over at SABR. He’s been making both a silly series of literals customs and a cool series inspired by 1949 Leaf. In the beginning of the month he sent out a request for suggestions for his Leaf set.

I suggested Hank Thompson with the Browns. Why? Because Hank Thompson is the only player who integrated two Major League baseball teams. While I have his 1950 Bowman rookie card with the Giants, there’s no card featuring him with the Browns.

John went ahead and made cards of most (if not all) the suggestions and then reached out to see if I wanted a copy of the Hank. Last week I got an envelope from John and inside found two Hank Thompson Leafish cards.

The Browns card is great. A nice photo and the whole package feels right. The Giants one suffers a little from the mixed white-point issue that frequently bedevils modern creations that are intended to look old.* But they’re both more than welcome in the binder.

*If the border is supposed to be old paper then nothing else on the card should be a brighter white than the border.

The Browns card in fact may eventually make it out of my custom card section into a mini-PC section. I mentioned this last week but a couple of us on Twitter are collecting cards of the first black players for each team. It’s a short list and most of the players aren’t too spendy.

Dodgers		April 15, 1947	Jackie Robinson
Indians		July 5, 1947	Larry Doby
Browns		July 17, 1947	Hank Thompson
Giants		July 8, 1949	Hank Thompson, Monte Irvin
Braves		April 18, 1950	Sam Jethroe
White Sox	May 1, 1951	Minnie Miñoso
Athletics	Sept 13, 1953	Bob Trice
Cubs		Sept 17, 1953	Ernie Banks 
Pirates		April 13, 1954	Curt Roberts (also Carlos Bernier)
Cardinals	April 13, 1954	Tom Alston
Reds		April 17, 1954	Nino Escalera, Chuck Harmon
Senators	Sept 6, 1954	Carlos Paula
Yankees		April 14, 1955	Elston Howard
Phillies	April 22, 1957	John Kennedy
Tigers		June 6, 1958	Ozzie Virgil
Red Sox		July 21, 1959	Pumpsie Green

We’re each putting together our own rules for what kinds of cards we want. For my part I’m looking for cards that are as close as possible to when they integrated the team without requiring myself to break the bank. And the cards should feature the player with the team they integrated (ruling out the Ozzie Virgil Giants cards I already own).

The Hank Thompson Browns custom fills a hole because it’s one of the player/team combinations which isn’t available on cards. At least he has cards though. Nino Escalera and John Kennedy don’t even appear on cardboard.

Right now I have cards of Hank Thompson (1950 Bowman), Monte Irvin (1953 Topps), Minnie Miñoso (1954 Bowman), and Elston Howard (1967 Topps). The Elston Howard is a bit too old for my preferences in this project but until my COMC pile gets here it’s fine. My COMC pile though has another nine cards for this project.

1950 Bowman	Sam Jethroe	Braves
1954 Bowman	Carlos Bernier	Pirates
1954 Topps	Bob Trice	Athletics
1954 Topps	Chuck Harmon	Reds
1954 Topps	Curt Roberts	Pirates
1955 Topps	Carlos Paula	Senators
1959 Topps	Ossie Virgil	Tigers
1959 Topps	Elston Howard	Yankees
1961 Topps	Pumpsie Green	Red Sox

Most of these are pretty close to the players’ debuts. Howard is still a bit off but 1959 is still way closer than 1967. Aside from the players who don’t have cards this leaves me with a big four left. Three of those four are Hall of Famers. I don’t expect to ever get a Jackie Robinson card. Larry Doby has an affordable 1959 card but I’d like one from his original stint with the Indians. Those aren’t too bad but are worth waiting for one at the right price. Ernie Banks is similar to Doby. And Tom Alston’s 1955 Bowman is surprisingly expensive but unfortunately it’s his only card.

When my pile gets here I’ll scan everything and put them (aside from the Giants) into eight-pocket pages. So expect a follow up post on here about how the project is coming sometime next year once COMC gets its act together.