Category Archives: baseball

First TTM roundup

A post as promised when I wrote about getting into TTM requests. I’ve now received all the envelopes that have been accumulating at my parents’ house.* Did I say over a dozen before? Turns out it was closer to 30.

*Yup. I’m over 40 and my parents’ address is still the closest thing to a permanent address that I have.

Yeah. I’m a firm believer in the “fill up the hopper” approach for this kind of thing. Send a ton out early and then take things easy and not worry about sending out as many later. I expected returns to trickle in bit by bit—taking two or three weeks at best—so having a good batch of returns I was waiting for made a ton of sense.

I was not expecting so many returns to take between one and two weeks instead. That’s been a super-pleasant surprise and meant that I perhaps front-loaded my letters a bit.* Anyway aside from a second Neshek return I’ve been getting everything sent to my parents’, tempering my excitement, and biding my time until my sister brought everything over.

*Although trying to get everything to Spring Training sort of forced my hand.

This is going to be a big post so I’ve broken it up into three different sections that cover the main categories of people I’m sending to.


I sent a bunch of request to Stanford players. Guys who pre-dated my autograph-hunting years. Guys who came after. And in the case of Ryan Turner, guys who I watched play during those peak autograph-hunting years.

Ryno was the first return I got back. Only 7 days too. I was very surprised. I mentioned him a bit in my Mussina post but he’s noteworthy for being the first player in the Colorado Rockies organization and his 1992 Bowman and Upper Deck cards are the first Rockies cards produced.

Jeremy Guthrie took 10 days to get two cards back to me. As a player who’s about the same age as me, Guthrie is exactly the kind of player who I would’ve felt super uncomfortable getting a signature from back in the day. This isn’t a bad thing or a regret, just an observation.

I like that Guthrie changes his uniform number to match the team he’s playing for. Some guys use their current number. Others stop doing that after they make it to the majors.

Bruce Robinson’s 8 day return shows the promise and fun of TTM requests. I sent him one card. He sent me back five signatures. My card, the signed index card I use as a bit of stiffener in the envelope, and two signed and personalized business cards are pretty cool but he also wrote me a very nice letter in response.

I guess it shows how much I enjoyed writing the letter to him. Robinson gets credited for modifying the catcher’s chest protector to have a hinged protective flap on the throwing shoulder. It’s even called the Robby Pad. I mentioned how, as a Product Design guy, just seeing the ubiquity of that invention in today’s game must be pretty satisfying.

It looks like I need to check out and write him back now. Kind of surprised that I’m the first Stanford collector out there too. But I guess it’s nice to have such a solid collecting niche too.

Jim Lonborg was another fast return in only 8 days. As the 1967 Cy Young Award winner he was arguably the most-prominent Stanford player in terms of winning awards until Jack McDowell won the Cy Young in 1993.

Lonborg represents my first custom return too. I whipped up a “1949 Bowman plus 1954 Topps” custom of him for Mark Hoyle since Mark has so much stuff that he’s impossible for someone like me to send anything to. The thing about using the 1954 Topps template though us that it sort of needs a signature to really sing so I figured I’d try and get one signed. He kept a couple copies, returned one, and I’m really pleased with how it turned out.

Chuck Essegian’s card also came back in 8 days. He’s the last of the guys who started playing in the 1950s but I chose to leave him for whenever I did a summary of 1960s Stanford players.

Essegian is most famous for hitting two pinch hit home runs in the 1959 World Series—there’s even a cool 1970 Laughlin card of this—but he bounced around playing for 6 different teams (Phillies, Cardinals, Dodgers, Orioles, A’s, and Indians) over 6 years of cards.

Doug Camilli is another 1960s guy. His card came back in 8 days as well. I went with 1965 Topps because it’s one of my favorite sets. He was mainly a backup catcher but did get to catch one of Sandy Koufax’s no hitters so that’s pretty cool.

Camilli is tough since many of his cards are high numbers. His 1962 high number rookie I’m never going to get. His 1966 high number is as crazy as the rest of the 1966 high numbers. Thankfully I found a deal on his 1967 high number.

Bob Gallagher sent back my card and a nice note in 10 days. when sending these letter I sort of wrestled whether to out myself as an alumnus but eventually settled on it making the connection to my project even better.

Gallagher had a short career—only 2 Topps cards, one with Houston and one with New York—so I chose his 1974 card since I’ve never liked getting cards with facsimile signatures signed. I should probably track down his SSPC card as well since that one will probably look best signed.

Don Rose signed his only card in 11 days. Rose is one of the Stanford guys who intersects with my Giants fandom. Unfortunately he never got a Giants card.

Darrell Sutherland signed my 1966 Topps card in 14 days. Sutherland, as with Rose, had a pretty short career so I’m glad that he got a couple of cards out of it. His 1968 is one of those hatless awkward crops so I’m happy the 1966 is such a traditional pitchers’ pose.

Drew Jackson was my first Spring Training return coming back in only 11 days. He’s been bumping around in the Mariners organization for a few years but the Orioles picked him up as a Rule 5 draftee last winter so he’s on a Major League roster now. It’s fun to write a “congrats on making the show” letter and these Bowman designs look pretty nice signed.

Frank Duffy had a nice long career in the 1970s. His 1976 card came back in 18 days with a fun “Go Cardinal” inscription added. I had a lot of card choices here but 1976 is a design I’ve always liked to get signed.

Duffy is also one of those guys who played for the Giants but never got a card.

Jed Lowrie has signed on and off so I didn’t know what to expect when I sent to him. These two came back from Mets Spring Training in 18 days complete with the inscription. Getting A’s and Astros is wholly appropriate since he’s bounced between those two franchises a lot. He’s yet to show up on ay Topps checklists this year so it’ll be interesting to see what product he finally shows up in with the Mets.

This has been fun enough that between the Alumni Game post and Sunken Diamond post I’ve put together a page of all the Stanford Autographs I have now.

Former Giants

I figured I should go through my Giants duplicates to see who was worth sending out. It’s been a fun exercise of letting my duplicates guide me into doing some research and learning about players who I never got to see play.

Joe Amalfitano came back in 10 days. As one of the last New York Giants Amalfitano’s a fun addition. That he’s also a baseball lifer who’s not only still working in the game and actually working with the Giants is an added bonus.

This is the big return that makes everything else worth it. Juan Marichal took only 10 days. When I was a kid Marichal was on the “don’t even think about mailing to him” list so seeing him turn into a reliable signer is pretty cool. I kind of wanted to send a 1974 Topps or 1972 In Action card since the leg kick is so iconic but I eventually went with the extra 1965 I got from Dimebox Nick.

I’m still amazed that I have duplicate 1960s cards let alone duplicate Hall of Famer cards. 1965 is a beaut of a set and never ever a bad choice for signatures.

Bob Bolin also came back in 10 days. When you think of the 1960s Giants pitching you think of Gaylord Perry, Juan Marichal or Mike McCormick but in 1968 only Bob Gibson had a better ERA than Bob Bolin in the National League.

Tito Fuentes came back in 8 days and included a nice index card. I’ve always liked Tito’s signature with the star dotting the I plus the nice baseball tail. It reminds me of how my son signs his name right now in all the best ways. Plus he’s one of those players who everyone likes.

He was the Giants’ Spanish-language announcer on KLOK when I was a kid and while I didn’t listen to every game in Spanish we’d turn it on on occasion and try and listen to the game. Sports is a good way to help learn the language.

I had his signature on a ball but I always intended to get him on a card. I’m glad I had a 1970 card handy instead of the 1975 I had acquired for this purpose 25 years ago.

Ken MacKenzie was another fast 8 day turnaround. While he played for the Giants he’s much better-known as an original Met who Casey Stengel immortalized as the “lowest paid member of the class of Yale ’56.”

Hobie Landrith took 9 days. He’s most famous for being THE original Met as he was their first selected player in the expansion draft.* Landrith also caught Juan Marichal’s first game so it’s nice to get the pair of them in this first batch.

*This is in comparison to Ryan Turner being the Rockies first player taken in the amateur draft rather than the subsequent expansion draft.

The 1978 Rob Andrews came back in 11 days. This card is a family favorite. Since it was double-printed I come across it a lot. As a result it’s become both boys’ oldest Giants card and they really enjoy having it in their collection.

And I got the Jack Hiatt that Night Owl sent me back in 11 days. Hiatt was the Giants back-up catcher for a number of years but had a great stretch in the first half of 1969 while Dick Dietz was injured. It’s nice that this card includes that stretch in its stats.

2018 Giants

A huge batch of the requests I sent out were packages including my customs from last season. I would call this “current Giants” but I sent to, and got returns from, guys who are no longer with the team as well. Most of these requests included a Topps card or two plus a stack of customs with a request to sign one and keep the rest.

The first return here was a big surprise. Dereck Rodríguez sent four cards back in only 10 days. As the sort of breakout rookie last season I had him pegged as a long shot of a return but he appears to, so-far, be a great signer.

I especially like the two customs he signed. As one of the breakout stars of last season I sent him a bunch. I’m especially happy with the one of him batting but there’s also something nice about a classic horizontal pitching action photo.

Will Smith also signed in 10 days. This is a great return. I love the way the Heritage card looks signed. So happy Topps stopped using the Giants in black Spring Training uniforms. I’m pretty sure the 2019 card is not of him but he signed it anyway and the custom of his roster card looks great.

Smith also signed both Wille Mac Award cards. Not sure why but this is appreciated nonetheless even though the black ink doesn’t show up well. It occurs to me that a Willie Mac Award Winner project could be an especially fun one for a Giants fan to embark on. I already have a few: Brenly, Krukow, Uribe, Bedrosian, and Manwaring from my youth and Speier, Dravecky and Pence as gifts from the wonderful members of Card Twitter.

And finally, Smith signed the silly Skybox-Basketball-style cards I made of the players in their ugly sweatshirts. As soon as I saw that post I thought there had to be something I could do with them. When I saw those 1990s Skybox designs I figured I should give it a shot and make a run at those 1990s colors and gradients. I didn’t really expect to get these signed but they were too much fun not to send off.

Ray Black signed his sort-of-disturbing 2019 Rookie card in 14 days. I had sent him an extra for him to keep but he signed both.

Black kept his ugly sweatshirt cards as well as the ones commemorating his relief no-hitter (9+ innings of no-hit relief work) last season and sent me back his signed roster card. I very much appreciate that he changed pens and used a silver sharpie on this custom. It’s a sharp look for the dark background and shows that he’s a very sensitive signer.

Sam Dyson signed his 2018 card in 14 days. Dyson made the most pitching appearances last year and was an integral part of the Giants bullpen. Unfortunately this also meant that he rarely showed up in any highlight situations since he just racked up holds and neither finished games nor was on the mound when the wheels fell off.

Dyson signed both of his roster cards but he did keep his ugly sweatshirt cards. I hope that, as with Black, this means he liked them instead of just tossing them.

Reyes Moronta signed everything I sent him in 16 days. I’d sent him an extra rookie card since I’ve heard that Topps doesn’t provide them to the players but he sent both back. I probably should’ve written to him in Spanish.

He also kept none of the customs. It’s cool to have doubles but I also feel guilty getting this many cards back. I don’t want to be one of those guys who contributes to the burnout that players end up feeling for TTM signing by sending too many in a request.

I was excited to get an Abiatal Avelino return in 16 days. My eldest’s first reaction to the Andrew McCutchen trade was to ask if the Giants got any guys we’d seen at Trenton.* He was excited to learn that Avelino was part of the trade and even more excited when Avelino got called up in September.

*I was extremely impressed at the maturity and baseball purity of this response.

It’s things like that that help prevent my son from converting to being a Yankees fan like so many other local kids. Trenton is a great Minor League experience and seeing players like Aaron Judge, Miguel Andujar, and Gleyber Torres make a splash in the Majors only a year or two after we watched them is pretty exciting. Realizing that they might not make the majors as Yankees and instead appreciating them wherever they end up—including the Giants—is a much less dangerous mindset for the kids.

Avelino also signed his sweatshirt card! This is just too cool and I can tell he thought about where best to put his signature.

Chase d’Arnaud is tied at 7 days for my fastest return.* He seems like a super-nice guy since he’s already responded to and reacted to my tweet thanking him. I especially love the position player pitching card.**

*Ryan Turner and Pat Neshek are also 7-day turns. Given the way USPS works I’m not sure anything shorter is even possible. 

** I also sent one to Pablo Sandoval but I don’t expect that to come back.

Gorkys Hernández sent a great return in 14 days. He was another breakout player last year whatwith being one of the team leaders in Home Runs. I understand why we let him go but I’ll miss him just the same. I’m happy to have him in the album.

He signed one each of all the customs. I really like the variations in the photos here and he’s got a nice-looking signature too.

My last return was also my longest so far. Chris Stratton in 32 days coming in much closer to the way I expected things to turn out. He kept all the customs I sent him—kind of flattering actually—but it’s nice to have the signed Topps card. Stratton’s final stat line didn’t look that great but he pitched the best game of 2018 and really held the staff together at times in the season.

When I received this card Stratton was still a Giant. He’s since been traded to the Angels and while I understand why he went (no more minor league options) I’m a bit sad to see him go.

And whew. Almost 3000 words. I didn’t expect this many returns at all but what a wonderful “problem” to have. What a great start to this whole TTM thing. Pretty sure things are going to calm down a bit moving forward but we’ll see where things go. I’m looking forward to sending a few more letters out here and there as things come back.

Sunken Diamond Visitors

Of course it wasn’t just Alumni or Stanford players whose autographs I got at Sunken Diamond. Stanford played a very competitive schedule. Not just was the Pac 10 South* a bit of a powerhouse with Stanford, Cal, UCLA, USC, Arizona, and Arizona State, but Stanford also played yearly series against good teams like Cal State Fullerton and Fresno State. I saw a lot of good players come through.

*For whatever reason in the late 80s and early 90s the Pac 10 had two 6-team divisions for baseball.

At first I only learned who I’d seen after they made it to the pros. But we had a subscription to Baseball America and I realized that I could use its scouting reports to start prospecting. This started off on a basic level with just getting signatures whenever the cover players were guys who’d come through.

So in 1990 it was Bret Boone. I was already aware of Bob Boone as a Stanford alumnus and had a vague dream of maybe getting this cover signed by all three Boones.* Yeah I only got Bret. Upside down because that’s the orientation I handed it to him (lesson learned, make it as easy as possible when you hand someone an item).

*It occurs to me that Bret’s son is playing college ball locally… But that would be kind of weird.

This turned out to be a decent prospecting job too. Bret went on to have a good major league career. Over a dozen years. An All Star a couple times. A few Gold Gloves. Pretty respectable stuff.

The following year a bunch of Arizona State guys were on the cover. I’m not sure how I didn’t get Tommy Adams but I did get Jim Austin and Mike Kelly. Despite the hype of the million dollar outfield, only Kelly went on to have a Major League career with 6 years in the bigs.

Once I started to read the scouting reports and mark who the top prospects were who’d I’d be seeing each year I had to get a bit more creative. I decided to use the photocopied roster inserts from the scorecards so I’d have a record of both the year and the team. These aren’t the most-attractive artifacts but they’re pretty handy for identifying everything I’d want to know about the circumstance of the autograph.

Anyway these are:

  • 1993 UCLA—David Roberts, Ryan McGuire
  • 1993 Arizona State—Doug Newstrom
  • 1994 USC—Aaron Boone
  • 1994 Arizona State—Antone Williamson

Turned out to be a mostly-successful batch of prospects. Boone and Roberts had pretty good careers and McGuire and Williamson both made it to the bigs. No one made it huge but I can’t complain.

Interestingly, for some reason the USA cards in Topps Traded didn’t include many guys who came through Sunken Diamond. The only card I got signed by a visitor was Dante Powell when he came through with Fullerton. But he also made it to the bigs—even playing for the Giants—so that turned out pretty well.

Getting Zapped in time for the Thunder Open House

As I, and my son, have gotten more and more into Trenton Thunder games I’ve started paying more and more attention to Kenny’s Twitter feed and blog. In addition to being a prolific trader whose Zippy Zappings are somewhat legendary, he’s a big-time Yankees prospector and autograph seeker. While the prospecting life isn’t for me, knowing who to expect to see in Trenton and who the likely big deals are is good information. At some point I suspect my kids will take over this knowledge base but for now Kenny’s my go-to.

Since Kenny is located in New York City he has access to the Staten Island Yankees (also the Brooklyn Cyclones but we don’t talk about the Mets) and sees Yankees prospects fresh out of the draft. When he realized that the Trenton Thunder were having their open house last Tuesday he put together a package of Staten Island extras and sent them to me and my boys so we could start prospecting on our own.

I suspect he’s also trying to convert them into being Yankees fans. Many of the local kids around here have turned their backs on their parents’ teams and have instead begun to support the Yankees. It would be infuriating if it weren’t so pure. Trenton is a good experience and the past couple years with Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Miguel Andujar, and Gleyber Torres all making the jump from Trenton to New York City means that the kids are really just following the players’ careers and being excited about them making The Show.

This would be super concerning to me if the Andrew McCutchen trade hadn’t gone down the way it did last year. But seeing Abiatal Avelino in Trenton and then seeing him play in San Francisco later that same season? Super cool. We also got to see Billy McKinney, Brandon Drury, and Justus Sheffield last season and none of those guys are with the Yankees anymore either. My kids have already learned that the Yankees like to trade for players during the season and that minor leaguers at the Trenton level are frequently exactly who gets sent the other way.

Anyway I got my first Zippy Zapping on Monday. Just in time. Inside were three piles of cards—one each for me and the boys.* Plus a bunch of other ephemera from Staten Island. Like I said, I think he’s trying to convert us.

*Yes plural. The youngest is old enough to go to games now and has been jonesing to go for a while. He’s super pumped for the season and is more than ready to join his big brother.

One thing the Trenton is great at is giving away the program at every game. It’s fantastic and welcoming. I thought perhaps this was just a Trenton thing but since Staten Island appears to also do it maybe it’s a Yankee thing. I’d be impressed if it were.

I think this is a complete run of monthly programs from 2016. The first one has an embarrassingly low-resolution cover image but it’s really interesting to see how much roster turnover there is form the first program to the last one.

Also two ticket stubs from last season. I may as well link to Kenny’s post about these games. I’m kind of shocked at the prices. Trenton isn’t cheap but is cheaper than this (San José meanwhile papers the house so everyone feels like they can afford to buy BBQ and churros). I hope the food at Staten Island is affordable since this seems like it would be tough to take families to.

On to the loose cards. Two of the Chromes are for me. The Abreu is for getting signed at Trenton. And the other three Minor League cards are to be divided among the three of us.

Kyle Crick is the guy the Giants sent to Pittsburgh (with cash) for Andrew McCutchen; who then turned into Abiatal Avelino and Juan De Paula. De Paula meanwhile just got shipped to Toronto with Alen Hanson and Derek Law for Kevin Pillar. So in a sense the Giants got rid of Crick, Hanson, and Law and received Avelino and Pillar in exchange.

Kyle Holder is currently with Trenton with Albert Abreu. David Sosebee is with the Yankees’ AAA club in Scranton. And Josh Roeder is now in the Marlins organization. Travis Phelps meanwhile played a couple years in the Majors for Tampa Bay.

Like the Abreu, the rest of the cards were intended for autograph hunting. I didn’t have time to scan anything before the Open House so instead I’m scanning what got signed  and moving into a rundown of the event.

DSC_0157I took the boys directly from school. The event started at 3:00. We got there around 3:45 and just wandered around the stadium before grabbing our $1 hot dogs once batting practice started. They loved just watching the players hit.

One of my favorite things as a kid was to get to the park early and watch the teams practice too. There’s something very calming about it and it warms my heart that the boys share my mindset. I’m glad we can all watch together.

Around 5:00 we went up to the autograph line. They were excited—a little too excited—so I gave them each a Thunder baseball and told them we’d try the cards another day. Juggling everything was going to be tough. Which meant I was the only one getting cards signed. I gave the notebook method a shot this time and it’s pretty nifty. Definitely a timesaver if you have a lot of cards you’re managing.

The autographs were managed so well that everyone finished signing like 20 minutes early. Finished in this case means that all the fans in attendance had gotten everyone’s signature. This is just as well since it was pretty chilly and as much as I like minor league ball, the way the players get treated (and not paid) is making me feel really guilty about enjoying it.

Anyway, to the autographs. Two non-team-set cards are of Jorge Saez and Trevor Stephan. Saez has been stuck in AA for too long. He’s better than this and is a perfect example of many of the things wrong with the way Major League Baseball treats minor leaguers. He enjoyed the blast from the past with this card featuring him with the Blue Jays though.

Stephan was the only top prospect to show up (Albert Abreu was on the list but ended up not being in town) and sort of carries himself like he knows it. Still nice enough but definitely someone who’s already been asked to sign a ton of autographs.

Kenny sent us three 2015 Staten Island Yankees team sets. A lot of the players in this set are with Trenton. I don’t normally go for minor league sets but I figured, what the hey, if I have the cards I may as well try and get them signed. Jeff Hendrix, Jhalan Jackson, and James Reeves are ones I recognize from last season. Kyle Holder and Brandon Wagner are new to me but joined Trenton after I’d stopped going to games in June.

Of note here is how different Holder’s signature looks from the certified one Kenny sent.

He also sent us three 2016 Staten Island Yankees sets. Only a couple of these guys are with Trenton. For now. Ben Ruta was on the team last year and Angel Aguilar was a late late promotion. Kenny suggests that a lot more of the guys in this set will make their way to Trenton before the year is up.

I like the way they signed in the white space on these cards. A marked difference compared to the the signed cards that Kenny sent me.

I’ll sit on my copies of the team sets for additional autograph purposes. The boys are already making noise about putting theirs in the binder. Yes they also want to get them signed. I’m going to have to talk to them about how it’s one or the other for now.

That finishes up my Zippy Zapping. Thanks Kenny for getting the new season off on the right foot!

I’m not sone with this post though because I also brought a few of my own cards as well. Jason Phillips is the Trenton bullpen coach but played catcher for the Mets for a few years. And I’d grabbed some 2018 Topps Heritage Minors cards from Tampa since that’s the lazy method of prospecting that appeals to my lower attention span. Unfortunately only Stephan showed up at this event.

The main autograph thing I was planning on working on was a team ball. I had one and I gave each of the boys one as well. I’m not planning on a compleat comprehensive ball but it’s nice to get one with 25 signatures on it. They’re good reminders of the event and the boys are both in love with theirs.

My ball is is an Official Eastern League ball. Supposedly they’re switching to the generic Official Minor League balls this year but I like having things being as specific as possible.

Image 2 is manager Patrick Osborn #13 who signed last but all the players left him the sweet spot.

Image 3: Brody Koerner #24, Trevor Stephan, Raul Dominguez #23, Jhalan Jackson #30, Mandy Alvarez #3, and Chris Gittens #34.

Image 4: Angel Aguilar #7, Kaleb Ort #29, Jeff Hendrix, Kyle Holder #6 and Bullpen Coach Jason Phillips.

Image 5: Pitching Coach Tim Norton #40, Jorge Saez #18, Francisco Diaz #8, Will Carter #11, Daniel Alvarez #31, and Trey Amburgey #15.

Image 6: Brandon Wagner #10, James Reeves #26, Ben Ruta, Wendell Rijo #12,
Nick Green #45, Trevor Lane #9, and Bat Boy Tommy Smith #48.

I like having the signed cards. I also like having the single ball as a memento. Small enough to store and display easily but also represents a memory, and set of memories much more than a card can.

I’m not going to run down the boy’s baseballs the same way since we all have the same signatures. I gave them the cheaper fake-leather balls since they have the Thunder branding and I was (correctly) expecting these to get beat up a little. Kids love their treasures but also tend to love them to death.

It’s a lot of fun to watch but also a serious marker into observing when they‘ll be ready for nicer things. They can graduate to real leather balls once they can buy them themselves and handle them better.

At least they’re happy having these in cubes and displayed in a place of honor on their desks. Could be worse. They could’ve been chucked into the big box of athletic equipment with all the other balls.


All in all a very successful afternoon. Worst part of the day was getting them to calm down after we got home. They’re both amped and ready to go to their first game and are even asking to go early so we can watch BP. April 14 can’t come soon enough for them. Good thing they’re part of Boomer’s Kids Club. It’s going to be a fun spring.

1986 Topps

I was not a huge set collector when I was a kid. This wasn’t by choice but rather economics. Buying complete sets was beyond my means. As was ripping boxes. In general I only got a couple packs of each release. Still I was able to accumulate a substantial number of cards of a few sets from my youth. 1990 Fleer and 1991 Donruss are two where I was gifted a box for my birthday. 1986 Topps though is one I accumulated the old fashioned way by opening a pack at a time over years.

I’ve been working on building all three of those sets since I had made substantial progress on them decades ago. As junk wax they make nice trade package filler and many people still have piles of them just sitting around. Heck I have piles of them just sitting around too. The past year has taken me to 90%, if not higher, complete on all of them and I’ve speculated in previous posts on here that it’s going to be interesting to see what set completes itself first.

A couple weeks ago my set need list got picked up by a few people on Twitter and all of a sudden it looks like 1986 is complete. This warms my heart since 1986 is literally the first set I started building even though I didn’t know I was doing so at the time.

1987 Topps holds a special place in my heart since that set represents the set I acquired during my first full season as a baseball fan. I look at that set and am transported to the beginning of my fandom. Watching my sons go through that exact age has definitely helped me remember how formative and wonderful that year is.

1986 though is the set which hinted at the world of baseball cards. The cards were just around. They were still in rack packs at Toys R Us. There were repacks of all kinds which consisted of like 50% 1986 Topps. I couldn’t avoid picking up a couple hundred of them and while 1987 Topps takes me back to that first season of baseball, 1986 reminds me of getting into the hobby itself.


Three people on Card Twitter in particular finished out my set for me. The main bulk came from Mark Del Franco (@delspacefranco)* and Jenny Miller who combined to kill almost my entire ~90 card needlist. Mark sent me over 60 cards** including a bunch of the Pete Rose specials. I’d never seen those as a kid and only now am I noticing the red-yellow gradient that would become a go-to look for all card companies in a couple years.

*Who I thought I was following but somehow and embarrassingly, wasn’t.

**Jenny’s package hasn’t arrived yet but looks to be even bigger. They started pulling cards at exactly the same time and I never know how to manage that (especially because trades sometimes fall through) so there will be a decent amount of overlap.

I don’t exactly like the 1986 design but there’s something solid about it. An incredibly distinct font definitely helps but the black bar is a good look too in making everything standard while allowing the team colors to provide enough interest card-to-card.* The photography is also an interesting mix of action, candids, and posed photos here.

*Something we’ve lost in the past two decades of “everything must be foil” madness is big bold colorful lettering. 

Mark’s asked me to pay this forward to other collectors—which is how I tend to approach trading as well. Send out what you can to who you can and don’t worry too much about what comes back. Odds are you’ll get more back than you ever sent out. But if I ever come across a good amount of 1969 Topps duplicates or 1950s Bowman duplicates (an unlikely scenario in both cases) I’ll know who to call.

The one card Mark and Jenny weren’t able to cover was number thirty Eddie Murray. After I’d gone through my lists and figured out what hadn’t been spoken for yet Mark put out a “get this guy a 1986 Eddie Murray” tweet and sort of immediately @CollectorVt responded.

A few days later Eddie showed up in my mailbox. Once Jenny’s package arrives my 1986 Topps set will be fully complete rather than expected complete. Very cool. I’ve never put together a set from scratch and even though accumulating cards via trades is still targeted set completion it’s nice to have done 75% of this from packs.

Thanks guys!

Surprise from Jason

So a couple weeks ago I found a surprise package from Jason in my mailbox. This package functioned as a bit of a thank you for introducing his to Card Twitter and the SABR Baseball Cards guys. Since he first popped up on Twitter last fall he’s become a big part of the community in general as well as a new SABR member who’s been blogging up a storm.

We’ll start with the requisite Giants cards. Do I have these? Yes…though I’ll have to double check with my current collection for condition since quite a few of my early-80s cards are printed badly.

But extras are always welcome here since I’m setting aside duplicates for my kids. They’ll each have very fun Giants albums soon and while I’m mainly setting aside two sets of identical cards so there’s no fighting we’ll probably have to have a draft of some sort for the rest.

The majority of the package though was, appropriately, all referencing various blog posts I’ve made for SABR over the years. I’ll go through these in the order I posted about them.

The first was this great Babe Ruth action photo. Not a Conlon card but rather part of the identically-designed 1992 Megacards Babe Ruth set. I’m a little sad to learn that this design turns out to have been used for a bunch of different sets but it’s still a nice look for all these old black and white photos.

I love multi-exposure action cards but was completely unaware of this one. A shame since the 1942 photos would’s been the oldest set of photos on that post.

There were a bunch of 1973 Topps cards which I’ll get to later but the Horacio Pina featured the Latino double last name on the back. I was wondering whether Topps would keep this detail in 2019 Heritage since it’s also part of the 1970 design but alas they did not.

Jason is a Dwight Gooden collector so he’d acquired a 1985 and 1986 Mets fan club card sheet just for the Doc cards. He then proceeded to tear them apart like an animal. Seriously, check out those edges. He kept the Doc but the rest found their way my direction. I like these because they’re oddballs but also because the typesetting on the back is very cool.

Jason did a better job tearing apart the 1986 cards. The Mets didn’t change the designs much these years but this is one of the stronger team-issue sets. Photography is mostly good and the design on the fronts is simple but effective. It would be fun to see sheets of these done for each team and, in an age of white-bordered cards, seeing team-color borders is especially fun.

The 1973 Topps Traded cards rounds out the references to my SABR posts. This kind of kid-generated modification is one of my favorite things. I love seeing evidence of kids using cards and really following the game.

Also, for a set with notoriously bad photography the selection here is mostly good. Just the Tommy Agee at the top of this post shows the all-too-common “who is this card of” photo selection. The Jim Hart card is also a bit awkward in that his face is completely in shadow. My only other comment is that it’s really really weird to see Dick Dietz as a Dodger.

Last card in the pile is a trimmed 1954 Jim Greengrass which is a bit of a reference to a SABR post I did not write. 1954 is a design I love despite its weirdnesses (the way the fronts and back only bleed on one, albeit different, edge means that half the backs are upside down). Seeing a card with full bleeds like this kind of freaks me out even after I get past the trimming thing. It’s just a completely different look.

Thinking about full-bleed brightly-colored cards brings us to the last item in the package. Jason included a pack of 1988 Score for me to rip. I wasn’t used to color full-bleed cards when I started collecting. Even colorful sets had borders or, in the case of 1975 Topps, multiple colors so you could get lots of different colors per press sheet.

I’ve touched on this before but Score was different. 6 different color designs were unlike anything I’d seen. Plus the photography was frequently better than anything I’d see on a card. No truly awesome photos in this pack—though the Steinbach is pretty good— but just selecting a card or two of each color shows how this set still jumps off the page. Yes it’s a very of-its-time design but it really showed what cards could be.

Thanks Jason! Glad to have you on-board with SABR and as part of the hobby community.

Sunken Diamond Cardinal

While the Alumni Game was my first autograph experience at Stanford, it didn’t take long before I started to collect autographs at the regular season games themselves.

It was the 1988 Topps Traded set that pulled me in. The Team USA cards were very cool* and the fact that Topps included a Head Coach card of Mark Marquess meant I felt obligated to try and get it signed. The two Stanford players on the team—Ed Sprague and Doug Robbins—were both drafted in 1988** but I knew Marquess would be back in charge of the Cardinal for the 1989 season.

*I remember going to a Team USA practice at Sunken Diamond in the summer of 1988. Other than going to the practice—I didn’t even hang around to get a ball signed—the one thing that I do remember is that everyone was talking about Jim Abbott.

**I did eventually get their cards signed at the Alumni Game.

I have two of these signed. The first one is arguably worth adding to my Beginnings post since it’s the first hanging-over-the-rail autograph I ever got. I’d learned to use a Sharpie (albeit a black one) by 1989 but hadn’t learned how to handle the card so it didn’t get all banged up.

The second one is from a couple of years later. I’m not sure where I got the duplicate but Marquess was such a fixture that I felt like “upgrading” from my previous signature.

By 1990 I’d branched out and started to get other items signed. I was still very much a literal autograph collector who only wanted the people pictures on the item to sign it.* So I got Paul Carey’s signature on both the 1989 and 1990 scorecards and Troy Paulsen on the 1989 one.

*Something I’ve encouraged my son to avoid doing since it’s nice to recognize that a score card or program is a great platform for an entire team set of signatures.

I also brought the 1989 scorecard to a subsequent Alumni Game to be signed by Frank Carey and Steve Chitren. And I trimmed them from 8.5″×11″ to 8″×10″ because I hadn’t learned about the two different single-pocket sizes yet. Yeah. Lots of things I wish I’d done differently here but I still really like these for what they represent about this stage of my life and how earnestly I was taking the hobby despite not knowing really anything I was doing.

I was still figuring things out in 1991. Where the ball I got at the Alumni Game used a ballpoint pen on imitation leather, this one uses a Sharpie on real leather and demonstrates exactly why that’s not the best idea. Ink bleeds and fades and none of the signatures* are really crisp now.

*1—Ryan Turner, David Holbrook, Matt Bokemeier. 2—Roger Burnett, Jeffrey Hammonds. 3—Frank Carey, Paul Carey, Willie Adams, John Reid. 4—Troy Tallman, Aaron Dorlarque.

I think I got this one hanging out by the clubhouse door at Sunken Diamond. I was enough of a fan to recognize the players in the street clothes now. I’m more amazed that my mom just waited for me in the car while I hung out after the game. There’s a reason she’s laughing at me now.

By 1992 I had things figured out. I’d realized that the Official Pac 10 baseballs were manufactured by Diamond and, while I couldn’t buy a clean Pac 10 ball I could afford to buy an all-leather generic Diamond ball at Big 5. So we’ve got the closest approximation to a Pac 10 ball, real leather, and ballpoint pen. It’s aged perfectly.

I wasn’t going for a team ball at this point but rather was collecting who I had determined were the most-promising prospects on the team.* Some decent calls on my part since four of the seven did make it to the bigs. But I also missed just as many names since some of the newer guys** turned out to be pretty good. Plus the biggest name on this team was John Lynch who went on to bugger and better things on the gridiron.

*1—Mark Marquess. 2—Steve Solomon, Willie Adams, David McCarty, Scott Weiss. 3—Jeffrey Hammonds, Chris Kemper. 4—Brian Sackinsky.

**Jed Hansen, Dusty Allen, Rick Helling, and Andrew Lorraine.

At the same time I was getting these balls signed I was also getting the Topps Traded Team USA cards signed. There was always at least one Stanford guy each year. Rick Helling was a transfer in 1992 and for some reason I completely blew getting his 1991 card signed but the other ones I managed to get. This was always a lot of fun since it involved getting a real-deal Topps card signed and that was always something all the players liked to see.

I especially love the Hinch card because I’ve seen his signature show up on a lot of celebratory Astros stuff the past couple of years and it’s fascinating how much it’s changed in the two-dozen years since he signed for me. I sort of want to get a duplicate of this card and have it signed now just to compare the two.

Another thing I started doing was getting our season ticket signed by whoever I determined were the most prominent players who would be leaving the team after this season. This idea was inspired by my Mike Mussina autograph the previous season. I really liked the way it worked out as a way of commemorating who I thought was the player of note each year.

So in 1991 I got our ticket signed by Roger Burnett and David McCarty. In 1992, Jeffrey Hammonds And in 1993, Andrew Lorraine. I could look at the rosters and think about guys I missed but at least each of these seasons is represented by a player who made it to the majors.

Finally, I have this signed Baseball America. I’d started getting these signed a couple years earlier* since the college preview issue frequently featured Pac 10 players. 1993 was Stanford’s turn. Two of the three made it to the majors. One ended up winning a World Series as a manager. Not exactly the prospecting payoff I was hoping for as a kid but this turned out okay.

*Will be covered in a later post.

I’ve had this folded in half in a sleeve for decades. It’s clearly kept it in mostly good shape with only a little yellowing on the exposed edge. I’m trying to figure out if there’s a better way to keep it going forward. Too big to binder. Not really the kind of thing I’d want to frame. Maybe I’ll have to consider the portfolio route.

Stanford Alumni Game

In the spirit of my San José Muni post it’s time to write about my youth collecting autographs at the Stanford Alumni game. The game used to occur in January and marked the beginning of the new baseball season. Sitting at Sunken Diamond watching college ball on February and March weekends was one of the best things about growing up in California. Not only was there really no Winter, I got to watch Baseball outside almost all year.

While my first experience at the game was getting my Mike Aldrete card signed, by 1991 after my experience in Philadelphia and going to the College World Series, I was ready to try more.

In 1991 I just brought a ball and got it signed by everyone. This is very much in the manner of my Giants ball. Yet another fake-leather baseball though this time I exclusively used a ballpoint.* It’s held up ok but shows why ball point and fake leather are not a good pair. Signatures are mostly alumni but prospects like Hammonds made it on to the ball too. And yes there’s one name I can’t figure out.**

*Signatures: 1—Mark Marquess. 2—Mike Aldrete, Jack McDowell, Frank Carey, Lee Plemel. 3—Stan Spencer, Paul Carey. 4—Steve Buechele, unknown, Troy Paulsen, Jeffrey Hammonds, Tim Griffin. 5—Jeff Ballard, Doug Robbins.

**I have a key someplace at my parents so I’ll eventually figure this out.

It’s a fun ball which really captures the state of the Stanford Alumni in the pros at that moment. Four Major Leaguers (Aldrete, Ballard, Buechele, and McDowell), a bunch of new professionals who had yet to make it in the bigs (a cup of coffee for a few like Paul Carey and Stan Spencer but no long careers), and a prospect (Hammonds) who went on to have a long career. I can look at it and know exactly what moment in time it captures.

When I was a kid I was as unsatisfied with this ball as I was with my Giants ball. Which is a shame. I really love them now as a way of capturing the event and experience. Carrying just a ball and a pen around to different players was also a much much simpler way of doing things.

I wish I hadn’t been as snobby about who signed too. In addition to the Alumni game between current professionals and the Stanford team, there was also an Old Timers game between two teams of retired former players. Some of those guys also played professionally but I just didn’t know who they were. I did eventually remember to bring blank cards with me but Steve Dunning is the only one I can find.*

*I could’ve sworn I also got Sandy Vance’s autograph but I can’t find it.

Anyway I just didn’t know about the older guys and as a result ignored them. I wanted current professionals or prospects only. Learning about the guys I ignored has been one of the best thing about my current Stanford Project.

The following year I decided I was done with signed baseballs and instead brought cards to the game. This was to be my MO from 1992 through 1994.*

*The 1994, while knocking me out of the hobby in general, also occurred right when I was starting to think about applying to colleges. As a result, I found myself withdrawing a bit from being as attached to Stanford in general and feeling weird about getting autographs from guys who were increasingly close to my age.

I learned a lot about autograph hunting with a stack of cards at these games including the value of restraint and only dealing with a couple of cards at a time. Giving the guy a stack of cards is an invitation for smudging as he signs one and slips it onto the bottom of the pack. I wish I’d known about the current method of using photo corners and a notebook although I’m not sure how I’d like the bulk of carrying the book.

But I also learned about identifying players and trusting my gut and dealing with the scrum at a ball park. Sunken Diamond wasn’t crowded but there was always a decent crowd. Learning how to navigate my way around it was a good lesson that prepared me for dealing with the bigger crowds I’d encounter at Spring Training.

I’m not going to write about individual players here. The experiences all kind of blend together across the years into one event where I can still remember keeping my head on a swivel in the patch of grass by the clubhouse and bullpen—even walking around on the field in the bullpen area and trying to recognize players based on their playing card photos.

The stories that stand out most I’ve already told. My first autograph from Mike Aldrete. Steve Chitren getting razzed for his card featuring someone else. I’ve ordered everything below by card year since it provides a wonderful slice of the generation of players whose signatures I got. I was a big baseball fan from 1987 to 1994 so logically I got cards from 1987 to 1993 signed.

Much to my dismay Steve Buechele never showed up again after 1991. I also never saw players like Pete Stanicek or Kenny Williams. But guys like Aldrete, Amaro, McDowell, and Sprague showed up year after year and I always had cards ready for them.