A Trade Springs Into Action!

I don't want to let this blog get away from me again - so even though I've got a bunch to catch up on from essentially my entire year of collecting, I need to acknowledge a quick trade that came in a few days ago, courtesy of my new pal Steven, whose handle at TCDB is parsley24.

First, a confession to make - I think this is probably the third trade Steven proposed to me. But, what with the being busy and also not having about 75% of my cards readily on hand (yes, they really are still at my parents), I had let them expire.

Thankfully, though, Steven didn't give up. He shot a super simple trade over to me, requesting three of the 1968 Game inserts from this year's Heritage - something I knew I could pull right away, in exchange for this pair of Springers from 2017 A&G. That's the "base" mini up there in the corner.  The other card involved was from the massive What A Day! insert series. This one commemorates George's first walk-off hit.

Thanks for the cards Steven! I have a feeling we'll be swapping a lot more in the future - after accepting the trade, I found out that he's in Texas as well - just five or so hours north of me. That also meant these cards showed up super quick. Here's hoping I can pass some more cardboard your way soon!

 - Marc


TTM Report: September 2017

Now that the playoff chaos has subsided - and my Astros are World Champions (yes, I'm going to keep mentioning this because it's still quite a bit amazing and hard to believe) - I have a lot of catching up to do around these parts. Basically, I have most of a year's worth of blogging that I need to atone for, from the trades that rolled in to the TTM roundups, and yes, even a couple card shows. I figured the first thing I wanted to take care of was the past couple months of autograph returns, so that I can officially file these away. I managed a post on July during Harvey and August not too long ago, so let's pick back up with September's haul.

Buddy Biancalana: 3/3, 301 days.

Buddy's return was one of the longest that I've had since I resumed my TTM endeavors nearly four years ago. This one clocked in at a full 10 months, and I had all but written it off - which was a bit frustrating since it was my second attempt with him. Thus, the return was a nice surprise indeed. The hero of the 1985 World Series, made famous by David Letterman himself, Buddy was a short-term 'Stro in the second half of 1987. He made it into 18 games in a Houston uniform, and was released at the end of the season. Buddy was traded straight up for Mel Stottlemyre Jr. - someone I didn't even know was in the Astros system. Mel Sr. spent time as a Houston pitching coach, and probably elsewhere around the system, so it makes sense that we would have drafted him. Too bad he got away, as Biancalana went just 1-for-24 (.042) with a walk and 12 strikeouts in his brief stop.

Craig Cacek: 3/1, 15 days.

This request was an outstanding return, for a few reasons. Craig Cacek, despite some outstanding minor league numbers, only got a single cup of coffee at the big league level. What's worse, in said cup Craig managed to become one of baseball's "one-hit wonders," going 1-for-20 with a walk and three strikeouts in his seven games in 1977. He spent as many seasons at the AAA level as he did games in the majors, playing there from 1976-1982. He was a great contact hitter with excellent plate discipline: in the minors he hit .301 with just 496 strikeouts in 5485 plate appearances - less than once every 11 plate appearances - and 778 walks. In researching his career, I came across an amazing old LA Times article on a men's semi-pro team in California, the Hawaiian Buffaloes, titled The Boys of Fall. Seriously, you should go read it. Craig not only signed the custom I made, but also he sent his thanks for the extra copy I included and told me it was very cool. He answered my questions thoroughly - there's ink spilling into the margins of the page - and it's clear that after a frustrating exit from affiliated ball, he was able to reclaim his love of the game - GO READ THAT ARTICLE ALREADY. He also signed a pair of index cards I'd included as well.

Dave Eilers: 1/1, 11 days.

Mr. Eilers is another ballplayer who closed out his major-league career with a stop in Houston. After three years split between the Milwaukee Braves and the New York Mets, Dave wound up with the Astros for the 1967 season. He pitched 59 1/3 innings with the club that year, good for almost half his career total, going 6-4 with a 3.94 ERA (84 ERA+) and a 1.433 WHIP. His 3.30 FIP for the year tells us that his defense didn't exactly help him out, however. Dave signed the custom I sent and kept the other one, which is always a good feeling. He was a Texas boy, born in Oldenburg - near La Grange, between Houston and Austin, which meant that several friends got to come see him pitch in his final season. Dave also answered my questions, including one favorite I always include: "What's the strangest thing you've seen in baseball?"
His answer: "A player call for the infield fly rule and get both feet caught on [the] bag and fell down and missed the ball." Whoops!

Marc Krauss: 1/1, 150 days.

Oooo-weee! It's so strange to think of the dark days of the 100 loss seasons now, but boy was Marc Krauss there during it. Krauss was one of the failed attempts at filling the first-base hole, and wound up playing some left field as well if I recall correctly. He hit an even .200 in 146 games between 2013-2014, with a whopping .615 OPS. I finally caught Marc on my third attempt, this time via the Long Island Ducks, where he spent the year playing Indy ball, hitting .282/.400/.508 with 21 homers, 30 doubles, and 2 triples - good for a .909 OPS.
Jose "Coco" Laboy: 1/1, 11 days.

First - how can you not love this card? I know a lot of you aren't too fond of it, but by god, I have such a soft spot for 1970 Topps. I mean, you've got Coco Laboy at the bat rack (which almost looks like a shopping cart), clearly during Spring Training, with those fantastic old Expos uniforms, and that giant All-Star Rookie trophy.

Coco wasn't a particularly spectacular ballplayer, but he hit the first homer in Montreal for the Expos, making him an instant fan favorite. After reading about him in Jonah Keri's wonderful Up, Up, and Away, he was on my radar as someone to potentially write if I came across the right card. Well, this is the right card!

Mike Napoli: 1/1, 15 days.

It's not too often that you see a fairly well-known active player signing, but I noticed from the reported returns at the site I follow and a few Facebook groups I'm in that Napoli is fairly consistent for single-card requests. This year's Heritage is particularly nice for autographs - there's no need to pre-treat the card thanks to the vintage stock, and the photos almost all lend themselves well to signatures. I'm really happy with the way this one turned out.

Mike Lansing: 2/2, 25 days.

Lansing was another guy that Jonah's book put on my radar, making me reconsider him. I think I had so many of the same few cards of him in my boyhood collection that I just got frustrated with his existence. What I didn't realize is that Mike played his way into a roster spot in 1993 Spring Training despite never having appeared above the AA level. Mike spent last year coaching for the Reno Aces, where I wrote him towards the end of the season. That SC with the rundown is pretty sweet, and who doesn't love a double-dip shot?

Eddie Taubensee: 5/5, 49 days.

Ah, Eddie Taubensee - one of several catchers the Astros had before settling on the combo of Brad Ausmus and Tony Eusebio. Watching Eddie is perhaps the earliest instance I can recall of a player on my favorite team just frustrating the absolute crap out of me. I don't believe there's any way to query how often he struck out looking, but I have distinct memories of telling him to take the bat off his shoulder, dangit! Eddie blossomed a bit once he left the Astros and landed with the Reds. Unfortunately, Eddie is also part of one of the poorer trades in Astros history, when they acquired him and Willie Blair from Cleveland for Dave Rohde and one Kenneth Lofton. Sigh. Oh, what could have been, right?

For as poor as Eddie hit with the Astros (.234 with 125 K's in 653 PA), he's an excellent signer. I wrote him care of the Augusta Greenjackets, the Giants short-season A ball club in the South Atlantic League. In his first managerial gig, Augusta finished 32-38.

Gary Peters: 2/2, 23 days.

Let's close this one out with another nice vintage return. Gary Peters had a fine career, pitching 10 full seasons in the majors for the Sox, both White and Red. Despite brief appearances at the big-league level in each season from 1959-1962, Peters didn't stick until 1963, when he really stuck. He led the AL with a 2.33 ERA, going 19-8 in 30 starts and snagging the Rookie of the Year award. He was named to two All-Star teams ('64 and '67), led the AL in wins (20) in 1964, and ERA (1.98) in 1966. It's always nice to add another ROY to the collection.

That's nine returns - including four new Astros autographs! September was a pretty good month for the autograph collection. Stay tuned for the October roundup. Then I'll probably jump back to January and try to knock out the rest of January-June. 

 - Marc


They freaking did it! I know, this is days late, but I'm honestly still a bit in shock. I had a feeling about this team back at the beginning of the year. Something was just different. The offseason moves felt right. There was a full season of Bregman ahead. The pitching was questionably sound, but hey, it could work - and work it did. We had the best offense in baseball by several metrics, including the second-most dingers (second to the damn Yankees by a mere three!) and the least strikeouts. Yeah, that's right: this team that I watched practically eat pine for years with record-setting whiff counts led the league with the fewest strikeouts.

They started with a terrible series at Cleveland, then launched into orbit and ran away with the AL West. They dispatched the Red Sox handily in the ALDS, as they should have. They let the Yankees take them down to the wire in the ALCS, which wasn't crazy given the pop in that lineup and the strength of their pitching.

The same happened with the Dodgers, except the unthinkable happened as Baseball God laughed in everyone's faces and put on the craziest and one of the most memorable World Series we've ever seen. Game one was a classic pitchers duel. Games two and five were absolute madness. There were more dingers than ever before. Pitchers couldn't command their sliders, for whatever reason. There were extra innings on extra innings, and #weirdbaseball. Lance McCullers became the first AL pitcher to get an RBI in the WS for the first time in a decade, but he also became the first pitcher in baseball history to hit four batters in a game and not give up a run. It seemed the only thing missing was position players pitching, or possibly a Waxahachie swap. There are so many things to talk about, but I feel like I barely have the words.

Finally, after three decades of fandom, after 56 years of franchise history, my favorite team has captured a championship that felt like it would always elude us. From the heartbreaks in 1980 and 1986 which I can only read about, to the ones I attended in '97, '98, '99, the crushing blow that broke Brad Lidge in 2004, and that god-awful sweep in 2005. Through the awful 100-loss seasons as we pinned our hope on prospects and the process: we have endured. The wait is over, and the glory tastes so sweet.

So when it came time for the parade on Friday, I sure as hell wasn't about to miss it. Sure, there may be more, and even soon - this team is damn good and will be for a while. But I'm not about to count any chickens. It could very well be the only one I have the chance to attend in my lifetime.

I was already on track for overtime on the week, so I put in a half day at work before re-parking my car and walking into downtown. I ran into a few friends, squished through the hordes of people, and wound up with a decent spot at the start of the parade just in time to see the last two fire trucks with players pull off onto the route. People started to stream away, either heading back toward their cars or over to the park at City Hall where the speeches would be held. Welp, time to walk back, I thought.

Then I took a look at the street signs, and noticed that I was a block away from where the parade was supposed to end - and people were walking away from it. So I writhed my way through the crowd, the proverbial salmon bound upstream, and settled into a prime parade watching spot, and let the joy wash over me.

This one's for Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. For Nolan Ryan, and J.R. Richard, and Jimmy Wynn, Larry Dierker, Bob Aspromonte, and Rusty Staub. For Doug Rader and Don Wilson. For Mike Scott, Joe Sambito, Kevin Bass, Dickie Thon, Art Howe, Terry Puhl, and Phil Garner. For Greg Swindell, Doug Drabek, Billy Wagner, Lance Berkman, Derek Bell, Billy Spiers, Brad Ausmus, Adam Everett, Morgan Ensberg, Scott Elarton, and goddamn Casey Candaele. It's for Ken Caminiti and Darryl Kile, God rest their souls. I could go on for ages.

This one's for Milo Hamilton, Gene Elston, Bob Allen, and Judge Roy Hofheinz, may you all rest in peace. I'm sure you're all sipping champagne in the clouds right now.

This one's for Houston, y'all. It's been a hell of a year.

 - Marc


TTM Report: August 2017


Well, it's late October and I haven't posted since Hurricane Harvey was lashing us with rain, so let's have a post, shall we?

Good things have happened since we left off: Houston has begun the recovery process, though it's a long one for sure. The Astros picked up Justin Verlander, won the AL West by 21 games, and finished second those pesky Cleveland Indians by a game. We dispatched the Red Sox heartily, the Yankees in thrilling fashion, and envelopes have continued to trickle into the mailbox.

But, alas, it hasn't all been roses. Each of us in the house spent time with the sniffles. Then my mom told us she was diagnosed with early (Stage 1) breast cancer. They found it really early, and there was a successful operation, but it also forced our hand in scrambling to find a nanny. Before that, Grandma (or Omi, as she prefers) was going to handle our childcare. Work has been a bit of an avalanche as well.

However, August was a good month for the Astro-graph project. Let's have a look at what rolled in.

Lee Bales: 5/3, 8 days.

Bales was a short-term 'Stro in the mid-60s who, well, was in over his head. He looked good in the field, but his bat was raw, and he suffered from the Braves throwing him at higher levels in the minors before he was really ready. His SABR bio is a pretty intriguing "what if" read. He saw some spot time at both second base and short stop, but his light hitting and the arrival of Joe Morgan and Sonny Jackson pushed him back down to the minors. Lee wound up out of baseball by age 24, and his only card is this badly maligned airbrush disaster of a 1967 Topps. Fortunately, someone out there found a nice image of Lee and did a good colorization, which I used for some customs.

Lee also signed the pair of index cards I'd included for protection. (Sidebar: I quit posting images of these as I learned that MLBPA has determined that they are sometimes used for identity theft, and has even gone so far as to warn players that they should probably avoid signing anything blank.)

Wilbur Howard: 2/2, 13 days.

This was my third attempt at writing Mr. Howard, a sharp-hitting fourth outfielder who managed to get into 121 games in 1977 despite not having one of the three starting spots. I kept seeing successes from him, despite my failures, so I tried a little trick and used one of the bright yellow envelopes I'd picked up at Staples. Apparently, that worked - although Wilbur held on to my 1978 Topps card. He did sign a protective index card, though, and I'm happy to finally add him to the project. That's a pretty sweet signature!

Don Lee: 3/4, 10 days. 

Don is the son of another pitcher, Thornton Lee. His dad had the better career, a two-time All-Star who led the AL in ERA in 1941 and pitched for three clubs across 15 years. Don, on the other hand, was a journeyman who played for five clubs in ten years. The Astros picked him up from the Angels in June 1965 for Al Spangler, and the Cubs bought him later in June 1966. In that span, Lee got into 16 games, posting a 2-0 record with a 2.77 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP.

Don kept signed three cards for me, including one of the "Wilson Franks" style customs I've been making, and two nice vintage pieces from '59 and '62, adding his respective uniform numbers from each team. He kept one of the customs as I offered, which always makes me feel nice. I like to think that most of the guys appreciate the time put into them, and when they hold on to one it also tells me that they read the letter close enough to notice.

Mark Ross: 4/2, 10 days.

Mark Ross worked into 14 games for the Astros in '82, '84, and '85, pitching a grand total of 21 1/3 innings before being granted free agency and spending time in the Pittsburgh and Toronto organizations. Ross grew up in the Astros shadow, being born down the highway in Galveston and playing at Texas A&M University before being drafted by the club in the 7th round of the 1979 draft. Ross also signed a pair of index cards and answered some questions about his time in the game.

J.B. Shuck: 3/3, 31 days.

Once one of the "throw it out there and see if anything sticks" crew of Astros during our lean years, Jack "J.B." Shuck has become a journeyman outfielder, spending time with the Angels, White Sox, and this year in Minnesota's system. I've tried him a few times in Spring Training and care of a couple minor league clubs. I finally landed a success this year when writing him care of AAA Rochester.

Dick Simpson: 2/2,  9 days.

Dick's Wikipedia entry lists his nickname as "Suitcase," although that may be a misattribution as that was Harry Simpson's nickname. Still, his playing for 6 teams in 7 years fits the bill, so maybe they both earned it. I had to clean up a rough old 8x10 image for these customs, and I think they came out pretty well, all told. A midseason acquisition of the Astros in 1968, Simpson played all three outfield positions, but did not fare well at the plate. In the offseason, they moved him to the Yankees in exchange for Dooley Womack.

Edwin Maysonet: 2/2, 14 days.

Maysonet was one of the many attempts to fill the gap at second base once Craig Biggio left the club. I think it's safe to say that we finally figured that one out in 2011 when a certain MVP contender got called up to the club for good. Edwin, however, was not him. In 46 games for the Astros between 2008 and 2009, he went 21-for-76 with 21 strikeouts and 5 walks. Twenty of those hits were singles; his lonesome extra base hit was a round-tripper off of Ross Ohlendorf of the Pirates. I wrote Edwin care of the Carolina Mudcats, where he was coaching.

Alright, it's game time. Let's do this.


The Hunker Down Chronicles, Part 7: July 2017 TTM Report

Aug. 28, 5:00 pm: It's been raining all damn day. Not heavily, though there were some bursts. Specifically, right after I wrote last night's blog entry, we got nearly 3" over the course of an hour. Here's the past 24 hours at the nearest gage.

And here's, well, the past week, though really it's just the past 5 days we're looking at here:

Yes, we've gotten nearly 31 inches of rain altogether. By the time I finish writing this post, we'll probably have breached that. Again, RTA HQ is still high and dry. My parents are in Sugar Land, where their neighborhood is in part of the voluntary evacuation zone as the authorities expect the Brazos River to continue to rise until cresting Tuesday evening at 59 feet. Mainly because at that point, it can't really get any higher, it will just spill out over the watershed. The next neighborhood over is part of the significant mandatory evacuation zone in Fort Bend county, but my folks are just upstream and while they may get stuck in their neighborhood for several days, it looks like they should be fairly fine. It's possible they see a small amount of water in the house, but fingers are crossed that we won't have any problems. They're well supplied, so they're planning to just wait it out.

The constant rain has made us a little stir crazy here. The poor dumb mutt refuses to go out into the rain to go to the bathroom, so he's just been sleeping the entire day. I wish it would clear for a good 15 minutes even, so that I could get him out. I'd like to go help, or try to scrounge up some more groceries, or do anything, but with enough uncertainty about clear roads and the never ending rain, it's just not feasible. If the baby weren't here, Mel and I would probably have made our way over to the nearby George R. Brown Convention Center to volunteer - it's only about a five minute drive normally and it's being used as a massive shelter at the moment.

Enough frustration. Let's find some positivity, shall we? While I've been pretty bad at updating the blog prior to this storm, I haven't let down my torrent of TTM requests. Now seems like a pretty good time to start catching up.

Steve Yeager: 2/2.
Sent: 6/17, Received: 7/13, total time: 26 days.
I'd seen a Yeager success or three reported at SCN and figured, what the heck, why not? I knew he was in the '81 Fleer set, (which I'm casually working on getting as much as I can signed) and scooped the '73 RC when I came across it while digging on an LCS trip. These were sent c/o the Dodgers, where Yeager is a coach.

Sam August, er, Jeff Juden: 4/4.
Sent: 2/7, Received 7/18, total time: 161 days.
At the time, Juden was one of the guys I needed for my Astros all-time roster autographs. I'd picked up a signed card in a swap while these were out, but I was really happy to see these come back. I remember meeting Juden as a little tike back in 1992 at the Astros FanFest. I'm glad he signed that "Sam August" card - it's Juden in a batting pose (odd part number one, right?). Classic didn't do so hot with the 1991 Generals roster - August's card features Juden, Juden's card features Shane Reynolds, Reynold's card features Orlando Miller (no idea how they messed that up), and Miller's card features the real Sam August.

Jorge De Leon: 1/1
Sent: 7/17, Received 7/24, 7 days.
Another random reliever from the roster down! DeLeon is pitching with the Gary Southshore RailCats this year, so I sent this one c/o the team. He must have had a translator that helped with answering the questions I asked. While his stats with Houston weren't impressive, he did something amazing when he came into a game against Cincinnati on Sept 18, 2013 in the 12th inning, getting three outs on just three pitches.

Jon Matlack: 2/2
Sent: 7/17, Received: 7/24 , 7 days.
I've been slowly adding some of the big annual award winners to my list, so when a Matlack second year card dropped into my lap, I filed it in my "to write" box. After it sitting there for a while, I finally dug it out and the '81 Fleer and dropped them to him. He was very kind, adding the 1972 NL ROY inscription I requested.

Tommy Helms: 1/1
Sent: 7/17, Received 7/25, 8 days.
Helms has been a frustrating one for me - he's got a decent reported success rate, but this was my third attempt and first response from him - and it smudged, to boot! Oh well. I may try once more. Helms also checks off a ROY slot on my list, as he won the 1968 NL ROY with Cincinnati.

Dave Borkowski: 2/2
Sent: 7/17, Received 7/28, 11 days.
Dave was with the 'Stros for a hot minute from 2006-2008. He's now the pitching coach for the Astros' AA affiliate, the Corpus Christi Hooks, where these were sent.

Doug DeCinces: 2/2
Sent: 7/17, Received 7/31, 14 days.
DeCinces was a fine third baseman for the Orioles and Angels. I'm not sure why he got a "Golden Glove" designation in the 1981 Fleer set, given that he, uh, didn't win one. He did finish third in the 1982 AL MVP voting and won a Silver Slugger that year, however. These two checked off a couple more signed cards from the '81 Fleer list. At the moment I've got somewhere around 35 cards from the set signed.

More posts (and rain) to come,

 - Marc