Mother's and Father's

It's Mother's Day, and in this house in particular, it's the first Mother's Day. My wife tells me that last year counts, and I'm not going to argue that - she was 9 months pregnant and our Lil Bru would arrive in just a couple weeks time. But this is the first actual Mother's Day here, because it's my first one where I have to perform all the typical fatherly duties - waking up first, wrangling the kiddo, letting mama sleep in, making sure we have presents, that brunch is lined up, etc.

So of course I'm writing about Father's Day cards. Last year, when our nugget was but three scant weeks old, the three of us were all hanging out at the house on a Saturday - possibly watching the Astros game even. I noticed that there was a card show going on that weekend - not any show, but the really big one that TriStar puts on here in Houston each summer, and remarked about it aloud, mildly despairing that the following Sunday was the final day. Much to my surprise, my wife told me I should go. What followed was an exchange that approximated to this:

"Really? No, I couldn't."
"Yes, really! You should, you deserve it."
"Are you sure about that? It's Father's Day."
"Yes, really. You should go, take a couple hours and get a break. Then we'll do family stuff."

Basically, my wife is wonderful person. So now, while she's sleeping in and Lil is down for her first nap, I'm going to show off some vintage that I picked up at the show. There's probably a few more posts coming down the pipe later in the week as well. But first, glorious, glorious vintage. You'll have to forgive my memory on these pickups being a bit fuzzy, though.

Bobby Shantz, the 1952 AL MVP and winner of the first game in Houston Colt .45's history. He's also one of the best out there when it comes to signing through the mail, and I'd been planning to write him again. So when this '56 popped up in one of the well-loved vintage bins I was searching for a buck, well of course I nabbed it.

Another '56 and another Harvey to add to my PC. I love that he appears to be legging out a single here.

You've actually seen these two cards already, both of which have ink on them now. I picked up these two with plans to write Mr. Peters, the two-time All-Star and 1963 AL ROY. The '68 came cheap with several Astros that you'll see below.

At some point I hit a bin with a bunch of cheap Post cards, which was phenomenal except for the fact that I didn't want to start building the set yet. If I'd come in with 50 bucks dedicated to that I probably could have knocked out a third of it! I grabbed these two Digger O'Dell cards at low prices, and Billy has since signed them for me.

Mmm, more great vintage. I'm a sucker for the 60's-70's Pirates, and this cheap '58 Vern Law was in great condition. I nabbed the Mantilla to send off to him eventually, once I've gotten a copy of his '66 Topps - another pesky high number that is his only Astros card. 

Like I said, there was a lot of delicious vintage to be had, particularly in the cereal department. I swear it was a bin of $1 cards, and there were names to be had and cards in good condition. I think I flipped through the entire bin. I actually already had this Felipe Alou, but I knew a user on TCDB that had tried to contact me about it before when mine briefly went on my trade list (I flipped everything there to my trade list a few years back and slowly added the stuff I wanted to keep to my collection), so I grabbed this for him. 

I did not have this fantastic Luis Aparicio, a HOFer whom I particularly enjoyed reading about when I was a kid. One dollar? Of course!

We'll close the non-Stros portion out with two more Buccos from the 'Burgh, mound men Roy Face and Bob Friend. These were all in good shape and pretty well cut to boot. If I wanted to get particular, I could try and trim the Friend down with my paper cutter, but I'd rather not risk it - everything was in pretty good shape.

As I said, I nabbed some other '68 Topps from the same dealer where I found the Gary Peters All-Star. I think I picked up 6 cards for 4 or 5 bucks, and that also included the Denny McClain I showed off in the recent TTM report. Turns out I may have had the Gotay already, I can't quite recall.

I nabbed the rookie stars card as I still need Tom Dukes and Alonzo "Candy" Harris, which are both pretty good TTM. I'm always a bit torn on these - do I get it signed by both? If so, then I need another card to slot into the Astro-graphs collection. I did find a great photo of Harris in uniform, which I whipped into a custom. I need to check for Dukes. I do recall kicking myself for not spending an extra dollar to get a Von Hoff without the crease. I'd mistakenly picked this one up for TTM and then got home and checked my lists only to remember that he'd passed in 2012. Ah well, if a nicer one floats my way this will fall into the distant '68 set build I suppose.

Derrell Griffith! What? That doesn't excite you? I'd been trying to hunt down this '67 for some time, as it's Griffith's only Astros card. He's got a fantastic success rate - I need to sit down and write him already.

Picked up a pair of hurlers for the '66 team set as well. I think I got my Bruce signed at some point, so this might have been a replacement.

Finally, some more Rookie Stars to finish it off. The floating heads on the '63 feature one Conrad "Randy" Cardinal, who has also been on my "to write" list for quite some time. Both of these cards have been fairly tricky to track down. The Dave McNally appearance makes the '63 rookie a bit pricier, and the '65 featuring Dan Coombs, Jack McClure (never made it to the show) and Gene Ratliff (cups of coffee only) is another pesky high number. It's actually in fantastic condition, other than centering. It's also Ratliff's only card, and someday I may have to shell out for a signed copy because he seems tough to get TTM.

But wait, there's more!

Yeah, I said we were done, but I had to save this bad boy for last. This phenomenal piece of cardboard cost me just four dollars. That's definitely something I remember. I know Dime Box Nick will appreciate this one.

Check out that stunning beauty of a '54. It's got some ever-so softened corners, and just a very slight offset in the printing (check the lower right corner), but the poses, the grip, the dreamy blue eyes. That's a damn baseball card there.

So it was a great first Father's Day last year, and the card show was a phenomenal bonus. I'll post some of the other stuff later this week. Now, it's time to make sure this first official Mother's day is as amazing as my wonderful wife is.

Oh, and call your mom if she's still with us.


April 2018 TTM Report

I hinted at it in the last post, but you already knew the April TTM Report was overdue. Well, here it is! There were a few nice pickups last month, including several new additions and upgrades for the the Astro-graphs collection.

Gene Clines: 3/3, 8 days.

I'd written Clines once before, when I pulled some spare Pirates cards of his a couple years ago. He was very kind about signing the cards I sent and answering some questions I'd asked about his time with Pittsburgh. I remember not long after that I'd been looking through the Astros coaches, having decided to try and track down those autographs as well, and discovering that Clines spent several years as the minor league hitting coordinator before serving as the hitting coach with the big league club in 1988. So, after some hunting, I was finally able to track down a Brace photo of him in an Astros uniform - probably from Spring Training during his time as the minor league hitting coordinator, given the uniform. Then at a show last year I found a dealer with a lot of the police issue cards from the '80s and discovered that of course there was a staff card featuring Gene among the other coaches. I finally sat down to make a custom and Mr. Clines was once again quite kind in his very quick reply.

Denny McLain: 1/1, 13 days.

This one was the only return from April which required a donation, and it just so happened to arrive on my birthday, so let's just count it as a present to myself. Of course we all know that Denny is the last pitcher to ever win 30 games in a season when he went 31-6 in leading the Tigers to a championship in 1968. It's not going to happen again, folks. I'd been wanting to add Denny to my collection for some time, given that his feats also include a pair of Cy Young awards and his fee is a modest ten bucks. When I found this rather nice condition '68 at a show last year for two dollars, it was just perfect. I still need to blog about some cards from that show (which was last June! yikes!).

Ross Stripling: 1/1, 45 days.

Most people know my fellow Aggie Ross Stripling as the guy Dave Roberts pulled from his major league after he had a no-hitter going through 7 1/3 innings. He actually made the team in college as a walk-on, and while I'm by no means a fanatic about following the Aggies in baseball, it's been fun keeping tabs on Ross. He's from Houston, which also meant that he had the dubious honor of flying home after the Dodgers dropped the World Series only to find out that his flight was full of joyful Astros fans. Ross actually wrote me a nice letter as well (leading off my letter to a fellow Aggie with "Howdy!" probably piqued his interest a bit). For the record, Stripling said he was completely gassed when Roberts came to get him. "In a perfect world, we would have been up 10-0 and I could have thrown another 15 pitches down the middle to see what happened. Oh well!" he wrote.

Mike Easler, 4/4, 62 days.

Mike actually opened his career with a couple brief stints with the Astros, but he really blossomed once he wound up in Pittsburgh in the late '70s. It was there that he picked up a World Series title with Pops and the Family in 1979. He also hit for the cycle against the Reds in 1980 and made the '81 All-Star team. In his response to my letter, he noted that playing for the Pirates with Stargell leading the team was "the greatest experience of my life and career." Mike signed two fantastic 1981 cards featuring him in the all-yellow Pirates uniforms, as well as a pair of customs I'd sent.

Juan Pizarro: 5/5, 18 days.

Juan Pizarro came up with the Milwaukee Braves in 1957, helping them to a title, and the Puerto Rican pitcher went on to put together a long 18-year career. During that time he bounced around quite a bit, playing for eight teams and shuttling between the rotation and the bullpen. He also made a pair of All-Star teams.

I'd been meaning to write Juan for some time, as he spent the end of the 1973 season with the Astros, but tracking down a picture of him in the team uniform had been quite difficult. By the time I had, Hurricane Irma had ravaged the region - he still lives on the island of Puerto Rico. So I filed the customs I'd made away and waited for the mail to start back up in the area, and kept an eye on the returns. Before too long, people were once again reporting successes with Mr. Pizarro, which made me quite thankful that he was doing alright.

While I was image hunting, I also came across this neat custom that another baseball fan had made, a rather cool horizontal 1957 card in the 1957 style. Given that he won a championship with the Braves that year, I decided to make a physical copy of this and send it to him as well - it came out rather nice. Of playing on that Braves team and winning the Series, Pizarro said, "I felt like a king."

Doug Fister: 2/3, 71 days.

Given the response rates I see now, I don't expect too many Spring Training requests to come back, even from the non-stars. That doesn't stop me from trying altogether, however. I think this year I sent out around 30-40 requests and I'll be happy if 10 of those come back. A couple were long shots, but most were former Astros. These two from Doug Fister are nice upgrades to the card that was filling his slot in the Astro-graphs binder.

Gary Kroll: 4/2, 11 days.

Ah, Gary Kroll - he's clearly still wearing his Mets uniform in that pesky high numbered card from 1966. It's his only Astros card, and tracking one down for a reasonable price (especially given the fact that I'll need another for my team binder) was the main reason keeping me from writing him for so long. He's got a fantastic success rate, and wrote some nice replies to the questions in my letter. During the time it took me to come across a nice '66 Kroll that wasn't going to cost an arm and a leg, I also discovered a rather nice Spring Training photo of Kroll from his time with Houston. Check out that road uni and the stirrups with the star! Oh, that's just so classic. 

Mr. Kroll also included a couple extras in the envelope as well - a 4x6 of him with the Mets that's a rather interesting photoshop job, and a McCarthy postcard from his Mets days. This one has me a bit stumped, though, because it's a bit smaller than your usual postcard and doesn't have any markings on the back. It doesn't feel like a reproduction, however. I'm going to need Nick V. to come by with a loupe and help me dissect this one.

Among his answers, Kroll did mention that he does still follow baseball somewhat, and that the players he enjoys watching include Judge, Harper, and a lot of the pitchers, including Arrietta and the Mets starters.

That's it for the April returns! Not a bad month at all. I added three guys to the Astro-graphs, upgraded two more, and picked up a two-time Cy Young award winner that won 31 games in a season.

Blog Bat-Around: What I Collect

It's already eleven days into May - heck, by the time this post actually goes live, it'll likely be twelve - and I still haven't posted for the month. That's not a particularly great sign. There ought to be a TTM Report up for April, and I still have a couple dozen packages to acknowledge dating back to - well, a good 10 months ago still. There are plenty of other posts to write, and I'd like to dive into my take on the "Documentary Now" project several of us are running. For now, I'm content to have settled on a base design, but that's about as far as I've gotten.

Right now, though, I'd rather dip back 6 weeks and talk about a Blog Bat-Around that Night Owl started: What I Collect. I've been thinking about this a lot over the past year or so, and the pages here are out of date (I should rectify that too). Parenthood is a beautiful thing, and it has a way of understandably changing your priorities. Well, my cardboard priorities have changed a bit as well, somewhat due to the new household addition, and for other reasons as well. Mainly, as we all seem to do every few years, I've just wanted to refocus.

So, all that being said - what do I collect? Let's see...

1. Jeff Bagwell

We've got to start at the beginning, right?  While I'm fortunate enough that my boyhood hero spent his entire career with my hometown team, and thus all of these cards technically fall under the next entry as well, the true heart of my collecting resides with my Jeff Bagwell cards. At some point last year I crossed the 1000 card mark (that's 1000 different Bagwell cards), and I really ought to blog more about these.

2. Houston Astros

When I first came back around to collecting some 5 years ago, I had decided to revive my Bagwell collection. Not long after that, I determined, "what the hell, why not just turn into a team collector?" Thus, here we are. Sure, I could collect just the stars, but there's a fair amount of joy in picking up the also-rans, the super utility guys of my youth, and the vintage cards that lead to discoveries of players gone by. So, yes - I'm a team collector as well. I'm not out there trying to swipe up all the mojo hits on eBay, though. I don't have the budget for things like that.

3. Bill Mazeroski

This is probably the one that comes most as a surprise for other collectors, but Maz was my first vintage PC.  My dad is from the 'Burgh, and Clemente was his hero. When I began dragging my father to card shows, he decided to start collecting once more, starting with a run of Clemente cards and the '60 Pirates roster. I wanted an old player to collect as well, and I after all the tales I'd heard of Mazeroski's quick hands and the famous homer, he became my guy. So I built a run of most of his Topps cards while I was a kid, and have slowly added to that after resuming my habit.

4. Other Vintage PCs

Well I obviously couldn't just stop at Maz, right? Soon afterward, Clemente and Stargell joined the ranks - I had a natural bent for the 60's-70's Pirates. Nolan Ryan falls in this category as well - his non-Astros cards get filed into their own collection. I've added a few guys that intrigue me for assorted reasons - Dock Ellis, Mark Fidrych, Harvey Haddix, and Bill Lee for their various quirks. Boog Powell, Brooks Robinson, Satchel Paige, Harmon Killebrew, and Warren Spahn all slot in here. There are probably more - I'll update the main blog page soon to better reflect this. For a few guys, I'm shooting for more complete vintage runs, others I just pick up nice cards here and there and save some of the neat new releases.

5. Modern PCs

This category would have been much harder to narrow down pre-baby. It would have been just a litany of stars from the 80s forward, but renewed collecting focus and some more selectivity when it comes to the actual cards I keep has helped chop the list down. In general, there are a few big names of whom I will keep just about any cards that come my way: Cal Ripken, Randy Johnson, and Pudge Rodriguez. It helps that they've got plenty of awesome cardboard out there, and that they are iconic standard-bearers for their positions. For several other guys, I have nice PCs going but I try to be fairly selective about who and what I keep - Juan Gonzalez and Julio Franco are prime examples of the guys here. And then there's Casey Candaele, whom I love because he played everywhere, was a cutup, and apparently took BP in the cage in the nude sometimes.

6. Sets / Inserts / Subsets

Yes, I do enjoy a little construction from time to time, although these are mostly back-burner collections that I don't focus much energy on at all. My primary pursuits here are vintage sets and some modern subsets/inserts that have caught my eye. I'm a half dozen cards from having the original 1968 Topps Game set finished, and 8 cards away from finishing 1974 Topps. I've got nice stacks going for '72, '73, and even a nice little pile of '64 stashed away for whenever I might begin those, and in general anything older than 1967 is welcome for a possible build. I really dig the 2018 Diamond Kings set (which I need to post about), and sometimes the new inserts will grab my attention - the 2016 blue framed Gypsy Queen cards or the 2014 A&G Pastime's Pastimes set.

7.  Autographs

I started collecting autographs as a kid - my friend down the street had a copy of Jack Smalling's book, and we wrote to a few old-timers, getting successful replies from Yogi Berra, Richie Ashburn, and Duke Snider, and I was hooked. A few years later I was checking an AOL group every day and writing to players via teams. I kept this going both TTM and at games until I was probably halfway through high school, when my collecting had pretty much stopped. I picked TTM back up in 2014, and have sent out around 750 requests since then, with successes from close to 475 of them. With all the junk mail now and less actual physical correspondence than ever, there's nothing like opening the mailbox and finding a return from a ballplayer, especially the old-timers who will talk about their playing days.

8. The Astro-graphs Project

We'll close out by bringing this full circle, of course. Regular readers should be well acquainted with this endeavor by now. This came about when I returned to collecting, and in addition to picking back up my Bagwell cards, I thought to myself, "well, it would be fun to have a long-term project." Then I thought about how neat it would be to attempt to pick up an autograph from every guy that's ever played for my favorite franchise, dating back to the original Colt .45s days. I had a nice little start with the guys I watched growing up, and figured that I'd be able to chase down a bunch of the older guys through the mail. So far, I've been pretty successful. Between TTM, Fan Fests, local signings, trades, and some certified autos I should cross the 50% completion threshold this year. This includes the coaches throughout the club's history as well.

So that's what I collect. Well, most of it at least. Thanks for the topic, Night Owl!

 - Marc