Friday, December 23, 2011

RBI (50) A dream Weaver...

Or at least it the level of pitching he has on the mound is the thing of dreams. Jered "Weave" Weaver, resident Angel ace has always been a tough cookie both on the mound for hitters and as a signer for collectors.

Weaver was taken in the 1st round of the 2004 draft by the Angels as the 12th pick, having slid due to clubs being wary of the ability to sign him. The Angels took a gamble on the Southern California native and Long Beach State product and it went down to the wire before they were able to sign him. The gamble has undoubtedly paid off for the Angel organization, and he has been a bargain for the level of pitcher they signed.

Despite being in a rotation featuring Dan Haren, CJ Wilson, and Ervin Santana, Weave is the undisputed ace. In six seasons so far with the Angels he has an 82-47 record supported by 977 Strikeouts and a 3.31 ERA. Weaver is already a 2 time All-Star and led the American League in Strikeouts in 2010. He finished 5th in AL Cy Young voting in 2010, and improved to 2nd in 2011, only being topped by a historic performance by Justin Verlander. Having signed a massive extension those impressive statistics and accomplishments will only continue to improve as Weaver remains with the Angels at least through 2016.

What is also impressive is the amount of charity and community work that Weaver is involved with. Weaver has long been a ambassador for the Special Olympics Southern California and makes repeated appearances in support of the organization and youth charities.

As with all players of that elite caliber, getting an autograph can be difficult but I have been able to be successful on occasion. At the press conference where Weaver and the Angels announced his extension I was able to get Weaver to sign this 2006 Topps Rookie Card.
When I was at the CJ Wilson and Albert Pujols press conference, Weaver walked over to the crowd before he spoke to the media and started to sign. Already having the rookie card signed, I opted for something more themed and asked Weave to sign this Topps 2011 All Star card since Weave had the distinction of starting the 2011 All Star game.
I'm definitely proud to have both of these cards in my collection and glad to have Weaver leading the Angel pitching staff for years to come.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

RBI (49) Memorabilia from a career 1st...

Though it most certainly will not be the last. I'm not quite sure if it's shown but I am a big fan of Angel center fielder Peter Bourjos. Not only was Pete my first TTM success (visible on the link) but he's an Angel product through and through. In person he's a great signer and I really do enjoy getting to interact with Pete at the stadium and he's been nice enough to sign a few things for me.

I'd have to say the greatest thing that I've been able to get Pete to sign is a pretty significant piece of memorabilia from his career. I was able to purchase his Game Used Jersey from his first career MLB Jackie Robinson Day. Certified by MLB and covered in dirt from US Cellular Field. Pete went 1 for 3 with a Walk in the Angels win.

I was really excited to be able to get Bourjos' jersey because in 2010 I could tell that this would be a breakout season for him. While I do think he was robbed of the 2011 Gold Glove in center field, I'm sure he's going to get plenty of hardware throughout his career.

Here you can see that Pete was nice enough to take the time and put his full signature and number on the front of the jersey number. It's awesome to have this one of a kind Peter Bourjos autographed jersey in my collection and is a piece I'll always treasure.
You can see the back of the jersey with the Angel patches for the 2011 season, the traditional "A" altered so the halo would be gold for the 50th Anniversary instead of silver.
Again you can see the anniversary gold Halo, club house Sharpied number on the inside, and the sweet dirt Pete picked up during the game.
Definitely one of the best highlight pieces I'll ever be able to have in my collection. Here's to a promising career of Peter roaming center field and tearing up the base paths Jackie Robinson Day after Jackie Robinson Day.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

RBI (48) One heck of a TTM Barr...

As the holiday season rolls around I wasn't sure if there would be an increase in TTM response or a decrease as people became busy with family functions and holiday celebrations. In the case of former pitcher Jim Barr, it was speedy holiday cheer he sent me.

A California native Barr was a 3rd round draft pick by the San Francisco Giants in the 1970 June Secondary out of USC. He actually has the distinction of being able to play almost his entire baseball career for a California team since he went from USC to the San Francisco Giants to the California Angels and back to the San Francisco Giants. There was a brief stint with the White Sox farm club the Edmonton Trappers, but never a MLB appearance and California won't hold it against him.

Barr was a consistent producer for the teams he played for regardless of the role he filled. In the rotation or bullpen he was a consistent out producer, setting a record for number of consecutive batters retired in 1971 until Mark Buehrle broke his mark of 41 in 2009. By the time he finally hung up his glove he would have a 101-112 career record across 454 Games Appeared and 252 Starts with a 3.56 ERA. Of those 252 Starts he would have 64 Complete Games, an astounding 25% of his starts ending with him still on the mound. His time as an occasional closer would also be successful as he would have 12 Saves spread across his career as managers entrusted him with the game despite only modest Strikeout numbers.

Mr. Barr is known to be a very active in helping youth grow an appreciation for the game. For 16 years he was the pitching coach for Sacramento State University helping mold young pitchers with his strong work ethic. He's kindness and passion for the game is clearly evident in his responses to my letter:

What was it like to get your 100th Win with the Giants?
For some pitchers the milestone is fleeting and a big focus, for Barr he demonstrates why he was such a great clubhouse guy throughout his career, "I never knew I was at that mark until reading about it - I was trying to focus on my next win an how the team did."

How did you prepare to transition from starting to closing?
Most starters have their pre-start ritual every 5th day, but as a reliever there's no luxury of having time to prepare to come into the game. Barr not shutted between the rotation and bullpen throughout his career but did it effectively, "The biggest difference is mental. You prepare yourself to pitch every day as a reliever."

What do you consider to be your career year?
Consistently a club focused player he writes, "1976 was good but I think my most productive year to the team was 1972" selecting his 8-10 record with a 2.87 ERA over 44 games and 18 Starts with 2 Saves over the 15-12, 2.89 ERA, 252.1 inning full year he spent in Giants rotation.

What was your favorite city to play in as a visitor?
Surprisingly despite all his years in the MLB's western divisions, "Chicago probably was my most favorite."

How were you able to consistently throw Complete Games?
Of his 252 starts not only were 64 Complete Games but 20 of those games were Shut Outs, "Being able to focus till the end - Not just till I get tired. Pitching well to the end was more important than just 5-6-7 good innings."

Jim Barr autographed my Topps 1981 card I got through the Diamond Giveaway and respond to the accompanying letter sent to his home address in only 7 Days.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Pujols-Wilson Press Conference...RPS (1)...

Well folks it's been a long time aspiration for me to get a better camera to help document my adventures in the baseball collecting world. I figured there's no better debut to the RBI Photo Series (RPS) than the epic Angels press conference introducing Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson as members of the Angel organization.

I arrived at Angel Stadium at approximately 9:00 AM and made my way to the press conference set up in front of the stadium between the two famous hats. The stadium crews were setting up the stage area still and I was able to get a decent spot by the rail.

When things were finally ready to start the special guests came out from inside the stadium and owner Arte Moreno emerged to the waiting throngs of fans. He came out and took a well deserved victory lap around the barricades giving fans high fives and shaking their hands.

There were plenty of Angel notables on hand including Dan Haren, Torii Hunter, Jered Weaver, Bobby Grich, Mark Gubicza, Dino Ebel, Steve Soliz, and Mickey Hatcher.

There were remarks and introductions by multiple organization members from Victor Rojas, Arte Moreno, Mike Scioscia, and Jerry Dipoto.

CJ Wilson was the first player introduced followed by Albert Pujols.

Just one big happy Halo family for the next 5-10 years. Not too shabby.
I hope you all enjoy the photos and the future photo series that will make guest spots here on the blog. I do request though if you do share or use these photos you use them for personal use and not for any commercial purposes. And please don't edit the RBI tag from the image.

I was able to get autograph's at the press conference, scoring a Mike Scioscia autograph, Jerry Dipoto and Jered Weaver autograph on their way out.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

RBI (47) This TTM Bell finally rang...

And it appears he also rang the cash register and will take whole truckloads of millions from the Miami Marlins in the coming season. Of course I'm referring to closing stalwart Heath Bell, who is quietly known as a reliable signer in person and TTM.

The Southern California native Bell was signed by the New York Mets as an Amateur free agent in 1998. He wouldn't make it to the big show until 2004 and would shuttle between the minors and Major League club for 3 seasons. Finally the Mets opted to trade the little used Bell to the San Diego Padres where he would become setup man for likely Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman.

As a member of the Padres he became a quick fan favorite known for his energy and antics. From his trademark Yoda Star Wars backpack to carry gear to the bullpen to his running full speed to the mound to lock down a save, Bell is definitely a presence in the clubhouse and on the field. During the 2011 All-Star Game weekend Bell was quoted as saying he was barred from signing autographs during the on field activities and gave a replica of his bag filled with previously autographed cards and balls to young fans in the stands asking for his autograph.

When Hoffman departed Bell became the Padres closer and he demonstrated the dominance he learned from watching Hoffman for two seasons. By the end of his tenure in San Diego he would have 134 Saves with a 2.53 ERA as his Padre career line. So far he has been elected to 3 consecutive All-Star games and twice been the NL Rolaids Relief Man of the Year.  While he does have markedly dominant stats at home in San Diego, his road numbers are still very strong and I'm sure Bell has the intensity to work to make the best of his new home park to continue his success as a closer. After watching for so many seasons Trevor Hoffman's career reaching it's pinnacle I'm confident that Bell will apply the same work ethic and be as dominant for the Marlins.

Mr. Bell was kind enough to autograph both of these 2011 Topps cards that I sent to him at Petco Park. Normally I don't send out multiple cards to players, but the second is a team card of the Padres and I liked his signature celebratory yelling face too much to not include it with my request. Heath's not just quick to the mound as he signed both of the cards and mailed them back to me in only 22 Days during the season.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

RBI (46) Another TTM with the "Fire" Trucks...

Well folks as the holidays begin to roll around I decided to appreciate one of the best TTM gifts our community has available to itself, another interesting conversation with Mr. Virgil Trucks. The previous post including a pair of autographs and further interview questions can be seen here.

Without further ado here is my next set of questions with Mr. Trucks, at the bottom are now copies of the original letters:

Was there a time during your no-hitters you realized you had no-no's going?
While most pitchers in their post-game interview tend to deny the thought crossed through their mind, Mr. Trucks admitted what I've always suspected, "Yes. Only the 8th or 9th inning."

What were the most difficult parts of keeping them going? Was the 2nd as hard as the first?
"There was no difficult parts of of keeping them going. Just keep getting them out. Yes the second game was tougher, because it being the Yankees who had greater hitters like Mantle, Berra, Mize, Noren, Baur, and more."

How did you celebrate each no hitter?
I've always been curious about the post-game celebration for such a milestone. When Galarraga had his perfect game blown on the last out, he was given a car. Other guys buy their defense watches, in the previous era of baseball it was a little different, "I just sit around with the guy then going out to dinner. Nothing different. As for the Yankee game. We left after the game for Boston. So again nothing unusual."

Who do you consider the greatest players you played with? Why?
This is a veritable who's who of the Hall of Fame, "With-Hank Greenberg. Charlie Geheringer. Al Kaline. Rudy York. George Kell. Mickey Mantle. Yogi Berra. Sherm Lollar. More than I can mention. Against (Gac) Cronin. Ted Williams. Jimmy Fox. Bill Dickey, Ted Lyons. Joe DiMaggio and many more."

What did you think of your time in Kansas City?
"Kansas City. I Loved."

What did you think of Bud Daley? What sort of teammate was he?
Having heard earlier from Mr. Daley earlier, I was curious to write Mr. Trucks about his accomplished former teammate, "He really wasnt with the club that much. I really didn't know him very well. Nice person."

What is your favorite memory from being in and winning the World Series?
It's special that Mr. Trucks was able to serve his country and then still be able to get one of the highlights of his career, "It was my first W.S. in 1945 and just getting out of the Navy in time to play in the series and winning a game will always be one of my favorite memories."

Do you think the World Series is the same now? Is it as meaningful today as it was when you played?
Baseball definitely doesn't resemble how it was when Mr. Trucks played. Expansion, instant replay, playoff format, it's all different and even the Championship itself has gotten a facelift, "The W.S. is a different type than when I played. You won the pennant you played the one that won the National League pennant."

Is there anything you wished you accomplished before you retired from baseball?
"Not really. I won a WS game and Allstar game. Pitched 2 no hitters in one year. Won 20 game in a season. I'm very happy with what I accomplished."

Mr. Trucks was kind enough to write back to my letter sent to his home address after 14 days. It's always nice to hear from such a great player and I hope everyone continues to appreciate his signing especially here in the holidays.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Balk 6 - Calling all readers...

Well folks as the off season marches on it's time for this blogger to do what all good writers must...reflect. It's been an interesting foray into the hobby of TTM and autograph collecting, one I've thoroughly been enjoying. Months later I still browse my sent list and wonder if there will be a response coming my way this coming holiday season. When I finally see the familiarly shaped return envelope with my handwriting on the front, I get a thrill to check the postmark and rack my brain to solve the puzzle before I open it. It's a thrill I expect to survive on through the years.

But that part of the hobby is an individual thrill. The other part is sharing it with all of you. I want to know how can I improve that? So here's the deal, I won't actually call this a contest but there will be a reward for those who participate. It's a secret but it will be a fairly enjoyable reward for a few moments of your time.

For those of you who read the blog, please give me feedback and let me make your reading experience more enjoyable.

1) What are your two favorite posts I've put up?

2) Do you enjoy the format of the posts or find it tedious?

3) Would you like scans of the letter responses included in the post?

4) Should the Big League Moment posts continue next season?

5) Does anyone miss the weekly/monthly summary posts of the Angels baseball performance? Should I bring it back or expand it?

6) Are the separate pages for In Person and TTM autographs inconvenient and you'd like a single master list or is it fine separating by interest?

7) Any general comments, questions, or additional feedback?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

RBI (45) A pair of Hall of Fame hits...

Well not just a hit, but a true hitter. While we are in an era of slugging first basemen, Hall of Famer Rod Carew was never an elite home run hitter, but he was someone you were fearful of every time he came up to bat throughout his career.

Carew was signed as an amateur free agent by the Minnesota Twins in 1964, and while he made his name with the Twins he is an Angel fan favorite. Carew's career spanned 19 seasons and saw him be one of the most dominate pure contact hitters of his era using the entire field to punish opposing pitchers.

He would finish his illustrious career with a .328 average and 3,053 hits. The magical 3,000th hit would fittingly come against Frank Viola, a member of the Twins in 1985. Despite his 1015 RBI he only had 92 Home Runs at the end of his career, but managed to hit 445 Doubles and 112 Triples for a career .429 SLG. His ability to put the ball into play and drive runners in was possible due to his great plate discipline, retiring with only 1028 Strikeouts against 1018 Walks.

While he didn't win a World Series championship, Carew's career was highlighted by his perennial appearances in the Mid Summer Classic, being an 18-time, all consecutive, All-Star. Carew also won the 1977 AL MVP award and 1967 AL Rookie of the Year Award with the Twins. In 1991 Carew was a first ballot Hall of Famer with 90.5% of the vote, and has had his #29 retired by both the Angels and Twins franchises.

Even now Carew's popularity is visible as an episode of the USA network show Psych contained a scene with a photo of Rod being joked about by the main characters.

These cards are a 1986 Topps and 1982 Fleer that I received from Tom at The Angels, In Order. I was able to get Hall of Famer Rod Carew's autograph on these cards on separate occasions at Angel Stadium through the Angels' 50th Anniversary celebration. I was actually on my way out of the door to head to the stadium when the mailman luckily pulled up with the package containing the cards or I'm not sure what I would have had Mr. Carew sign.

Friday, November 11, 2011

RBI (44) A TTM champ who came off the bench...

And he was definitely a much appreciated guy to have on that bench. Slugging catcher-first baseman-designated hitter Cliff Johnson had a very solid career that was highlighted by his home run hitting powers and a dash of infamy.

Drafted by the Houston Astros in the 5th round of the 1966 draft, Johnson wouldn't make his debut until 1972 and became a regular contributer in 1974. Once he finally broke into the regular roster Johnson made the most of it and stayed in the Majors for 15 seasons. Despite playing for seven different teams, Johnson made the most of his time with the Yankees winning World Series Championships in 1977 and 1978. His tenure with the Yankees came to an end when he famously got in a locker room fight with future Hall of Famer Goose Gossage in the showers after Goose began to tease him. The jokes became nasty and eventually turned to blows with Johnson breaking Gossage's thumb resulting in the Boss shipping him out to finish the 1979 season with Cleveland.

Johnson retired with a .258 career average, 699 RBI, and 196 Home Runs. What's most impressive of those homers, is that 20 of them were pinch hit, good enough for the MLB record until Matt Stairs broke the mark in 2010.
Cliff Johnson signed this 1977 Topps card I got from the Topps Diamond Anniversary. He autographed the card after 55 days to the card sent to his home address.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

RBI (43) Another World Series Champion...

Yup, the World Series may have gone to the Cardinals in 2011, but in 2002 it went to another scrappy wild card team. That would of course be the Angels. A key to the 2011 Cardinals success and the Rangers downfall was an effective bullpen. The Angels had just as effective a bullpen in 2002 with some key role players like setup man extraordinaire Scot Shields.

Taken in the 38th round of the 1997 draft Shields broke into the Majors in 2001 with the Angels. After he joined the bullpen Shields provided a shield of any lead given to him as part of the bridge to the Angel closers. He was a reliable arm for the better part of a decade appearing in various roles as a starter, setup man, long reliever, and starter. In 491 Games with 15 starts he had a career 3.18 ERA to go along with a 46-44 record.

Despite getting a solid 21 Saves as an occasional closer the real magic was his 156 Holds across 697 innings. It's absurd to think about what Shields career record would be had injury not eventually limited his effectiveness at the end of his career given his 6.62 and 5.28 ERA in his last two seasons. Without his ability to maintain leads closers Troy Percival, Francisco Rodriguez, and Brian Fuentes would not have been able to come into so many games to reach the elite level they did during their Angel careers.

Shields was a key part of the Angel championship run and success as American West Champions throughout the decade, with him eventually being recognized by Sports Illustrated as the Setup Man of the Decade. Normally closers get all the glory and recognition, but without a topnotch setup man and relievers, teams can't truly play championship level baseball. Shields is one of the best to play the game, and it really was amazing to watch him work through opposing batters with his two-seamer. It's shocking he was never taken to an All-Star game, but he got the ring he deserved.
I was able to get this Scot Shields autograph through the Angels 50th Anniversary celebration and he was nice enough to sign this Topps 2007 Angels Team Card for me with a "2002 WS Champs" inscription.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

RBI (42) A true champion's TTM response...

There's no need for a cheesy introduction for this signer. The man needs no introduction, but has had such an epic career it's necessary you honor him with one. He's a 10 time All Star, Cy Young winner, 6 time World Series Champion, member of the Baseball Hall of Fame and had his number retired by the New York Yankees. Yup folks, a Whitey Ford autographed baseball card.

The accomplishments and titles speak for themselves, but he's got the statistics to go along with them. A 2.75 ERA over a 16 season career gave Whitey 236 Wins with only 106 Losses. In 438 starts he had 156 Complete games with 45 Shutouts, making him an almost guaranteed off day for the bullpen. 9 times he was in the top 30 for the MVP award, an award that even in his Cy Young year eluded him.

Throughout all the annals of Yankee lore, you hear about Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio but the Babe, Mantle, Iron Horse, and Joltin Joe were never Chairman of the Board. For all the mystique of the Yankees the glory always falls onto the power of the long ball and elite hitters. It's not unexpected as home run swings make better photos than strikeouts, but as seen in today's game without an Ace it doesn't matter how many home run kings you have in your line up.
Mr. Ford was kind enough to take a break from his busy duties as member of the Baseball Assistance Team advisory board to autograph this 2011 Topps Lineage cloth sticker card. That's right readers, the sticker card. I really hope you take the time to look at the close up of the card. The cloth material gives it a nice weathered vintage look that I couldn't resist. I'm extremely grateful the Chairman took the time to sign the card, and this is one that I really will cherish. I have to say there aren't many times someone has their nickname enter the way we speak as a culture and Whitey Ford became part of more than just baseball Whitey Ford autographed this card after 9 days.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

RBI (41) He threw 2 no-hitters but is a TTM hit with me...

And I'm sure he's a hit with all TTM collectors. I'm sure the title gave it all away, but I'll douse your curiosity and confirm the all-star TTM signer I'm referring to is Virgil "Fire" Trucks.

While I'm sure many of the usual readers are well aware of the exploits of Mr. Trucks, I'll enlighten those just starting TTM. Virgil made his MLB debut in 1941 for the Detroit Tigers, a club he would play for 12 of his 17 MLB seasons. He was a stalwart member of almost every pitching rotation he joined as a front end starter or reliable reliever. He was a fireball hurler and would make any manager drool to have him a member of his rotation today. Trucks is a great example of what  a true starting pitcher was in the 40's and 50's of Major League Baseball when pitchers were expected to grind out the win anyway possible.

When his 17 season career ended Trucks appeared in 517 games, pitching 2683 innings with a 177-135 record. He threw 124 Complete Games, 33 Shutouts, and 2 no-hitters (both in 1952 to be the 3rd pitcher to toss 2 no hitters in a season), showing what a true workhorse he could be in the rotation. At the end he would rack up 1,534 Strikeouts to pair with an astounding 3.39 career ERA. To go with the 2 no-hitters he would be a 1945 World Series Champion, and be named a 2-time All Star.

Mr. Trucks is known for being one of the kindest signers in the TTM community and it's really amazing how above and beyond he goes for collectors. I really appreciated his responses, and hope the community of baseball fans and mailers do too.

Mr. Trucks signed this photo for me, even taking the time to switch pens for his "Fire" nickname. I wasn't able to find a card for him at a few card shows and through my collector pals, but I really wanted something by Mr. Trucks so I printed this photo out at home. On the side he also kindly inscribed "2 No Hitters - 1952, 5-15-52 - 8-25-52, 2x Allstar 1949 - 1954" I mean how amazing of an inscription is that? Not only did he write two no hitters, but dated both and put the two All-Star selections with each year. I can't say how much I appreciate Mr. Trucks being so generous with his time and inscriptions, especially at a time when more and more of players from are charging to sign let alone give so many notable inscriptions.

Mr. Trucks also included in his reply his own custom Diamond Signatures card inscribed "Best Wishes, Virgil Trucks".  First off, it's a great photo of Virgil on his this custom card made exclusively for his personal use. To have him decide to allow me to add this card to my collection is truly special. Secondly, I love the old time feel of the card from the framing to the color.

Having seen how generous he was with his autograph, I'm sure you readers are expecting him to be just as giving with his letter response. I'm glad to say that he goes above and beyond meeting our expectations in his kind response.

Dear Mr. Trucks,

"Glad to sign and answer your questions, Sincerely Virgil Trucks"

Which of your no-hitters was the most difficult to finish?

This response really isn't surprising considering the men named, "The 2nd one against the Yankees. The last 3 hitters - (Mickey) Mantle, (Joe) Collins, and (Hank) Bauer." Not only did Trucks face Mantle to lead off the 9th inning, but he struck him out for the second time that night as his 8th K. The roster also included Yankee great Yogi Berra batting 4th after Bauer.

Having played for the Kansas City Athletics and St. Louis Browns, how do you feel about franchises that relocate?

As previous responder Bud Daley showed, players seem to have an affection for Kansas City, "I don't think the A's should have left K.C. The Browns made the right move as one club in St. Louis is enough."

Were any of your 177 Wins especially meaningful to you?

With so many wins over a long career Mr. Trucks had plenty to choose from, but he didn't throw a curveball selecting three games any other pitcher would love to have on their resume that are truly memorable, "The 2 no hitters are and the 1945 W.S. win was a special one."

What do you consider to be your career year?

I always find it interesting when baseball cards or commentators pick a player's career year. Sometimes it's obvious but when you have a player of high caliber I think the player really should be able to decide  what they consider their best year. Mr. Trucks actually disagrees with his wiki page's career year, "I would say 1949 - 19 Wins - 41 games Lost 11, 278 innings - 183 K's - 2.61 ERA."

What was your favorite part of being an All-Star?

Trucks really highlights the difference between the All-Star players of previous generations compared to today's 70 man roster, "Just being an Allstar, I won the 1949 - Saved the 1954 game."

Where was your favorite place to pitch as a visitor?

A familiar mid-sized city made the cut, "Chicago White Sox - Comisky Park"

How did you find out you were being called up to the Majors?

"I was called up at the end of the season at Buffalo NY. I knew I would be recalled with 2 weeks of the American League season left."

Do you still actively watch baseball? Did you ever stop?

Mr. Trucks is definitely a true baseball lifer, "I watch baseball all season long on TV. No baseball parks. No I never stopped."

How do you think the game has changed since you were a player?

"Money wise. Plus a bunch of arrogant baseball players of today."

Mr. Trucks is someone I would really recommend the TTM community write to. Not only is he a kind and fast responder, he signed and responded to my letter sent to his home address after 8 Days, but he's a player who has a treasure trove of memories about a golden era of baseball and respect for the game we collectors should preserve for the ages.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

RBI (40) 2011 Team Ball and 2011 Season Summary

Well folks as I mentioned in the Big League Moment 3, Grant Balfour gave me my first 50th Anniversary baseball for the season. In honor of the ball and anniversary year for Angel baseball, I decided to turn the ball into my 2011 team ball. With no further's my autographed 2011 Angels team ball.

                              1 Joel Pineiro   7 Ervin Santana  11 Rich Thompson 16 Mike Trout
                         2 Jerome Williams 8 Mark Trumbo 12 Kevin Jepsen   17 Torii Hunter
                         3 Howie Kendrick 9 Hank Conger  13 Jordan Walden 18 Peter Bourjos
                 4 Fernando Rodney 10 Tyler Chatwood 14 Andrew Romine 19 Bobby Wilson
                        5 Scott Downs                                15 Bobby Abreu   20 Jered Weaver
                        6 Vernon Wells

Yes that's a Mike Trout rookie autograph on the ball at the top, but I'd rather showcase Weaver on the bottom. I'm pretty excited for this ball there's a good amount of history and story lines on the ball from this season.
  • Joel Pineiro reached his 100th win.
  • Howie Kendrick was named a 2011 All-Star.
  • Ervin Santana threw a no-hitter and broke 1000 strikeouts.
  • Mark Trumbo is a possible ROY.
  • Jordan Walden set a club rookie record with 32 Saves, and a 2011 All-Star.
  • Bobby Abreu moved into a tie for 24th all-time for doubles.
  • Mike Trout made his MLB debut and set up a run for 2012 ROY.
  • Torii Hunter reached the 1000 RBI plateau.
  • Peter Bourjos is a gold glove contender and tied for 1st in the AL for triples.
  • Bobby Wilson caught a no-hitter.
  • Jered Weaver put himself in the Cy Young debate and was a 2011 All-Star.
Now for the 2011 season summary of my stats:
  • 74 games attended at Angel Stadium.
  • 10 baseballs snagged, 3 of which were 50th Anniversary balls.
  • 149 autographs received in person. 
All in all it was a very good season. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Big League Interview (3) Grant Balfour

While at Angel Stadium I was hanging out during the Oakland A's batting practice and noticed a few people with some noticeable accents. By noticeable I mean awesome as there were a few Australians in the stands. It turns out that these were ball players from Australia who knew aussie Grant Balfour.

We had a pretty brief encounter as I hung out listening to their conversation (obviously listening not eavesdropping but they didn't seem to mind) about other Australians in the league and a few minor leaguers. It's a pretty small community and nice to know that they had a pretty good handle on all their countrymen in the US trying to make it in the bigs. It was also cool as he leaned in and shared some insider knowledge that hadn't been announced to yet, that he was told earlier in the day that he was going to get the shot as closer after Brian Fuentes' woes on the diamond.

After the guys left Balfour's family was actually there and he chatted with them for a while (I took a few steps away down the wall so they could have family time and didn't listen in). When his parents started to leave I reclaimed my spot on the wall and talked to Balfour myself for a minute.

Since this happened the first time the A's were in town, Balfour saw a ball come his way and started to check out the 50th anniversary logo stamped on the ball. I told him he should snag a few for his family since it's a pretty nice ball and he seemed to like the design. He handed the one he had been checking out to me and it was actually my first 50th anniversary ball (more on that ball later). He offered to get me a better ball since the 50 stamp was "Pretty beat up" as a thanks for the tip on the anniversary ball, but I declined and thanked him for the offer since it was my first 50th anniversary ball.

His family was on the way back so I had Grant autograph a ball for me then asked him the one question I had been dying to know about the former Tampa Bay Ray.

Did you like playing as a visitor in Boston or New York more?
(Insert Australian accent) "Oh New York mate." I probably should have asked him which stadium in general he liked to pitch at because Balfour's stats against the Sox and Yankees especially away aren't anything he'd be overly fond of. At Old Yankee Stadium he posted a 3.00 ERA and had batters hitting .393 against him. At Fenway a 6.75 ERA and .295 average awaited him.

I didn't have a chance to catch up to Grant the second time the A's came to town, but it was nice to share that little moment at the start of the season.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Balk 5 - Award predictions

American League Cy Young
Justin Verlander 

Do I really need to write anything here? Weaver put up a great fight, but it was Verlander's award since August.

National League Cy Young
Roy Halladay

Kershaw has a lower ERA, WHIP, and more Wins and Strikeouts. He won 2 more games, a .07 lower ERA, .06 lower WHIP, 28 more Strikeouts, and gave up 19 more Walks. He also had 9 starts against the Padres and Giants. Call me biased, but the schedule Halladay faced was more imposing in a more difficult park yet he still gave up fewer walks and homers than Kershaw. Doc also had 8 complete games against Kershaw's 5.

National League MVP
Matt Kemp

I don't think I really need to explain this pick. Some give it to Braun, but it's Kemp's season considering the lack of supporting cast, management controversy, and position difficulty.

American League MVP
Jacoby Ellsbury

Sorry Bautista, but Jacoby played in 8 more games with no DH appearances compared to your dozen. 154 games in center produced 0 errors compared to Bautista's 8 errors in fewer games in the field. Attention all Yankee candidates, the fact that there is more than one of  you means none of you were "most valuable" to the team let alone league. Jacoby also hit .358 during the Red Sox September slide. Without that performance the Wild Card race doesn't go down to the final game and the Sox collapse is even more epic.

National League Rookie of the Year
Craig Kimbrel

The Braves decided to pitch their rookie closer until his arm fell off and fell out of the wild card race as a consequence. But throughout the season Kimbrel was dynamic and lockdown with his 46 Saves, securing himself his own piece of hardware if not a post season appearance.

American League Rookie of the Year
Mark Trumbo

I know Eric Hosmer, Michael Pineada, and J.P. Arencebia are getting a lot of media time in the AL ROY debate, simply put they shouldn't be in the mix. Arencibia was a monster for game appearances but batted .229 on the year. Pineada won his last game in July and had a second half ERA of 5.12 as the season wore down on him. Ivan Nova is tougher but with 7 starts the year before I don't really count him as a rookie. Hosmer has been on fire since August. Great, I'm sure the Red Sox wish there weren't a previous 3 months in the season too but unfortunately there were. Trumbo as a rookie won his team's MVP award and had them on the cusp of a decisive series before breaking a bone in his foot. For a guy expecting to only be a place holder for star Kendrys Morales for a few weeks at the start of the season, I think that's ROY material if I've ever seen it.

National League Comeback Player of the Year
Ryan Vogelsong

Journeyman who last pitched in 2006 for a MLB club turned vital part of the Giant's rotation and All-Star in 2011. He went from AAA player to innings eater who was flat out dominate at times throughout the season. Easy call even though I know some throw Berkman's hat in the ring.

American League Comeback Player of the Year
Jacoby Ellsbury

An injury wasted 2010 didn't slow Ellsbury down from propelling himself not only into the MVP debate, but easily secures his comeback award. 

American League Silver Sluggers

Catcher Victor Martinez
First Miguel Cabrera
Second Dustin Pedroia
Short Asdrubal Cabrera
Third Adrian Beltre
Right Field Jose Bautista
Center Field Jacoby Ellsbury
Left Field Alex Gordon
Designated Hitter Michael Young

A few comments. Victor Martinez is a no brainer despite being not a full catcher. Cabrera same deal. Pedroia vs Cano came down to a higher OBP, more steals, and almost the same number of RBI despite the horrendous April and September the Sox went through. The parity of production despite the epic decline of the team really pushed Pedroia over the top. 

National League Silver Sluggers

Catcher Miguel Montero
Pitcher Daniel Hudson
First Prince Fielder
Second Brandon Phillips
Short Jose Reyes
Third Aramis Ramirez
Right Field Justin Upton
Center Field Matt Kemp
Left Field Ryan Braun

I don't think any of these actually need to be explained.

American League Gold Glovers

Catcher Matt Wieters
First Adrian Gonzalez 
Second Dustin Pedroia
Short Jhonny Peralta
Third Adrian Beltre
Right Field Nick Markakis
Center Field Peter Bourjos
Left Field Alex Gordon
Pitcher Dan Haren

National League Gold Glovers

Catcher Yadier Molina
First Joey Votto 
Second Neil Walker
Short Troy Tulowitzki
Third Placido Polanco
Right Field Jay Bruce
Center Field Matt Kemp
Left Field Ryan Braun
Pitcher Hiroki Kuroda

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

RBI (39) Another local boy done good...

It seems to be a general theme with the Angels especially that they like to acquire Southern California natives. This proved to be true with Long Beach native former catcher Mike Fitzgerald even though it was only for a lone season.

Fitzgerald was drafted by the New York Mets in the 6th round of the 1978 draft after attending Lakewood High school. It wasn't until 1983 that Fitzgerald made his debut for the Mets, appearing in only 8 games. Fitz' had the distinction of being one of the few Major Leaguers to hit a Home Run in his first Major League at-bat. Following the '83 season Fitz' became a regular player for the Mets appearing in 112 games before being traded to the Montreal Expos.

Fitzgerald played the majority of his career for the Expos and in seven seasons from 1985-1991 acted as a primary catcher for the team appearing in 633 games. He displayed solid glove work and when needed moved from behind the plate to play in every position except for pitcher and shortstop. Offensively Fitz' made modest contributions, but his defense, versatility, and ability to get on base were positive enough for the California Angels to take a stab at the Long Beach native in 1992.

After his lone year with the Angels, Fitzgerald hung up his cleats and retired from professional baseball. He ended his career with a .235 average to go with 48 Home Runs and 293 RBI. Most impressive though, was the catcher's ability to draw a walk throughout his career despite his low power numbers. Fitz retired with a .321 OBP and an astoundingly few number of double plays grounded into for his 10 years in the bigs, a mere 65. In today's metric analyzed game I'm confident in saying his talents would most definitely be appreciated by GM's.

Mike was an amazingly kind veteran to have the opportunity to meet. I was able to get his autograph through the Angel's 50th Anniversary promotion, but when I first got into line I was planning on having Fitz autograph a ball since I couldn't find a card for him. When a few friends got their autograph they came back and showed Mike had actually brought his own very large stack of cards from throughout his career and was signing the item and offering an autographed card to go with it. I couldn't believe it and really do appreciate Mr. Fitzgerald being so kind to offer that. I know all the fans walked away happy and grateful that the local boy treated everyone so well. 

Also I think the signature is one of the more unique and almost artsy signatures that I've seen. This 1988 Score card from Fitzgerald's Expos days is definitely a keeper. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

RBI (38) Some Bucks are worth more than others...

Especially when the "Buck" is former Major League player, manager, and coach Bob "Buck" Rodgers. A baseball lifer, it was great to have the chance to meet Buck as part of the Angels 50th Anniversary promotion.

Rodgers signed as an amateur free agent in 1956 with the Detroit Tigers, but he made his MLB debut in 1961 with the Angels. In 1961 he played in 16 games and would make the 1962 Opening Day roster for the halos in 1962 as the starting catcher at the tender age of 23.  Despite his young age he dazzled on both sides of the plate throughout the season. Amazingly the rookie not only played in 155 games, but also caught Bo Belinsky's no-hitter, the first no-hitter thrown in Angel franchise history. The rookie workhorse batted .258 and notched 61 RBIs, eventually when the season came to a close he came in second for the AL Rookie of the Year.

He'd play top level defense behind the plate for the Angels for 9 seasons before eventually hanging up his hat in 1969. The switch hitting catcher would retire with 31 Home Runs, 288 RBI, and a .232 average. Despite only playing for 9 seasons, Buck appeared in 932 games, an astounding average of 103 games a season.

The ironman didn't take any time off in his retirement and begin serving as a coach or farm manager throughout the 70's. He was finally made a Major League manager in 1980 taking over the Milwaukee Brewers. He would move on to manage the Montreal Expos where he'd win the 1987 NL Manager of the Year award. Eventually Rodgers came full circle and manager the California Angels until the team bus he was traveling on crashed and gave him serious injuries. Rodgers would miss half the season recovering and when he returned the magic that made him a Manager of the Year was gone and he'd finally retire from baseball in 1994 with a 784-774 managerial record.

I bought this 1963 Topps card at a card show and was able to get it signed as part of the Angel's 50th anniversary celebration. I was a big fan of the card and had the option of getting Buck's rookie card, but this All-Star Rookie sophomore card was too nice to pass up. When I saw Buck signing the card, I noticed he was writing more than he had for the previous few people. Before he handed back the card, he leaned in to the Angel handler and said quietly "That was always my favorite card." When I compared my card to some of the balls that he'd signed I realized all the other autographs were just 'Buck Rodgers' and I really appreciated Buck taking the time to give me a special full name autograph because he favored the card.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

RBI (37) Hats off, or should I say...

Capps? Minnesota reliever Matt Capps that is. I've had unconfirmed reports that one of the going nicknames for Matt is the "Mad Capper" and when you take a glance at his signature you may be inclined to agree.

The native Georgian was taken by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 7th round of the 2002 draft, and was intended to be developed into a starter. He didn't find much success as a starter, but in 2005 he was converted to relief work and made quick work of the minors eventually appearing in 4 games for the Pirates.

Since those 4 games in 2005 Capps has been fairly successful bouncing between the Pirates, rebuilding Washington Nationals, and currently Minnesota Twins as a setup man/closer. After signing with the Nationals when he wasn't tendered by the Pirates in 2010 the "Mad Capper" posted a strong first half earning himself his first All-Star selection. His first half was so impressive the Twins gave up a jewel in their farm in a top ranked catching prospect Wilson Ramos.

Capps was fairly reliable and especially necessary for the playoff hunt since the Twins lost elite closer Joe Nathan to injury in the 2010 season. When Nathan returned healthy the two went through a battle trading the closer role until Nathan regained his top form and closing role while Capps took a minor step back from his 2010 success. 2011 has seen Capps collect 15 Saves but also 8 Blown Save opportunities with an 4.11 ERA in 63 appearances.

For his career Capps has a 28-28 record and 3.48 ERA over the past 7 seasons. In 408 appearances Capps has finished 251 games, 124 of which were for a Save. His fastball and slider have netted him 297 Strikeouts which has him punching out batters at a pretty reliable rate. While the closer role may have eluded him in Minnesota Capps has the ability to continue pitching in the league with a solid amount of success and should be around for seasons to come.
Matt Capps autographed this numbered Topps 2011 Gold parallel for me at Angel Stadium before a Twins-Angel game. I was able to get his attention after he warmed up with another reliever I couldn't identify and asked him if he could sign his gold card. He was really nice to grab a water and then walk over to sign it for me before he started doing autographs for other fans. I'm thinking that somehow when he walked over he changed from Matt Capps to the "Mad Capper" because it's a pretty crazy signature and at first thought he put an extra "S" before I realized those are 5's next to the "C". Regardless I got it signed and I was pretty happy with it. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Big League Moment (2) Zack Hample

Well I woke up on the holiday morning a little bit latter than normal and logged onto my computer to see a wonderful surprise. Author, blogger, and ballhawk extraordinaire Zack Hample had altered his West Coast road trip to include the September 5th game at Angel stadium. To say I was excited is to an understatement. I immediately went into action with the necessary preparations for a surprise visit by his ballhawk-ness.

Less you readers forget, or don't know, Zack is the ballhawk/author who has written the books How to Snag Major League Baseballs, Watching Baseball Smarter, and The Baseball while updating readers with his blog The Baseball Collector in his ball collecting supremacy. I've only read the latter two books and follow the blog, and can firmly recommend all three as entertaining and necessary reads.

But, back to the preparations. I snag baseballs as needed typically with a specific use of the ball in mind when I start. Shockingly I will admit I've always barehanded balls or gotten them handed to me by a player or coach. I've actually only had one drop this season and that was when I was knocked on the arm by someone next to me. Anyways, in honor of Zack I decided the time was right to finally get a glove. I also decided it was necessary to get a hardcopy of his book The Baseball, because my copy was a digital one on my Nook. Thus off I went in the rain to buy both book and glove.

While waiting for the stadium to open it happened, my friend spotted Zack and we went over to introduce ourselves. I'll say it once and I'll repeat it as often as needed, Zack's a nice guy. He not only signed his book but wrote a nice inscription and personalized it to me. I really did appreciate him sitting down to get a better position to sign. We discussed the layout of the stadium a bit and I let him do his thing with a local reporter who was following up on the hero of the first Mike Trout homer. Here's a quick photo outside of them talking.
If you're interested in reading the article about Zack in the OC register you can find it here.

I was able to catch up to Zack inside after he had gone on a bit of a snagging spree after I caught my glove's first ball, a nice toss up by Trayvon Robinson in Center Field. It's a pretty high throw but Trayvon put it right on the money and the fresh glove caught it perfectly though stiffly.

I went down to the seats behind the visiting Mariners dugout where Zack was and he let me tag along with him for a bit to answer a few questions and watch him work trying to get a ball for the warming up Mariners.

It was a bit loud so I couldn't record the interview, but I did take notes. The answers if they seem short and sharp are only because I couldn't write full response in my notes while at the game, but I will say he gave great answers to everything while I interviewed Zack Hample.

You've talked about a few helpful players in your blog and books, who are the players that really help you out with balls?

"Brian Stokes, D.J. Carrasco, Livian Hernandez even though he always asks me how many he's given me this season."

Are there any players who go out of their way to not give you a ball or help?

"It's been a while since a player did that. Probably a few years."

Citing my own failure to reel in a ball by Felix Hernandez, he threw it in the sun and I was completely blinded, are there any big players you'd like to get a ball from?

"Texiera, Matt Kemp even though he's hard to get a ball from, Robinson Cano, plenty of good players it'd be nice to get one from."

Do you have any balls you'd like to get still?

"I'd really like to get any 100th ball from someone."

I was wondering if you thought about trying to get in on Thome's 600th.

"I thought about Thome, but when he was at 598 he was in Detroit. He homered twice in that game, and it's really tough to get balls from there."

Referring back to my earlier drop I had to ask how often Zack dropped a ball. He was pretty candid and put my drop into perspective.

"Even the pros have an error or two and misplay a ball. I probably don't really drop a toss up but can miss a homer on the fly. If it hits the edge of my glove it's probably because I wasn't focusing enough. Earlier I misplayed BP and started to leave when I didn't realize there was another BP group."

I know when certain teams come to town there's a drop off in homers. When the Nationals came there was a bit of a drop. Do you notice if it's harder to get a BP ball in an National League stadium than an American League since there's no designated hitter?

"Really? The Nationals have some power guys. Michael Moorse? I don't really notice a difference."

What type of glove do you use?

"Mizuno and the one before this was Mizuno."

How old is that glove?

"This one I've had for about 15 years" Zack then showed that despite the pretty well used and worn exterior, he had redone the interior of the glove and "hope the glove survives this trip."

Zack was traveling around the stadium with his friends and had been shadowed by a representative of the media due to him catching Mike Trout's first career home run. I had to ask how many times he's been at a game with the media and if it affected him.

"I don't have an actual statistic or tally on that. Probably about a half dozen or so times this year. I may miss a ball or two while we're doing something and be a few seconds too late, but it doesn't hurt too much."

Did you end up getting that Mike Trout jersey? (He asked Trout's mom for an autographed jersey since he was nice enough to return Trout's first career homer, but didn't force the issue and demand it from Trout as a trade for the ball)

"No. I mean I could have insisted on it at the time, but it just wasn't something I was looking to do. I didn't want to come off looking like I was taking advantage of him."

All the locals will want to know, how does Angel Stadium stack up on your West Coast road trip?

"It's medium, an okay stadium to look at with not too much going on. It's a little tough since the double bullpens take away prime power alley space. It's tough to go side to side since you have to go up and around to go from Right to Left. And they stopped me from using my glove trick, so that's a knock."

Really what happened?

"I used it once and a Mariners player who saw it wanted me to do it again. He set up a ball and I did the glove trick. Security came down, made me show them my ID, filed an incident report, and cut the string for the trick."

Zack and I finished watching the Mariners warming up and unsuccessfully tried to get a ball from Adam Kennedy. Kennedy I know is from Riverside, CA and I've seen him give away balls before but I think they were to his own kids or family friends so that didn't really surprise me and is pretty fair I think. I thanked Zack for the chance to watch him work and told him I'd try to get back down to behind the dugout after the game, but wasn't able to make it down. It really was a pleasure to meet Zack and have the chance to ask him questions as we hung out.

You can follow Zack Hample on twitter @Zack_Hample

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

RBI (36) This butcher sure has some skills...

But not in the deli, Angel pitching coach Mike Butcher has his skills working with guys on the mound. Though I've learned that apparently Mike has some skills in the kitchen as last year he put out some pretty seriously tasty chili at an Angels charity cook off. It may help that he's had some professional help in the form of  his cooking assistant/sister-in-law who is a trained chef.

When it comes to pitching Mike needs no assistance as he's got a fairly extensive background in it and especially in Angel baseball. Mike's about as homegrown as they come considering his 4 seasons in the Majors were all spent with the halos as a reliever. In 115 games Butcher posted a 4.47 ERA with 96 Strikeouts, good enough for a 11-4 record with 9 Saves.

From 2000-2005 Butcher served as a pitching coach or consultant within the Angels minor league system before he was called up to the big show to join former Angel bench coach Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay for the 2006 season. Since the 2007 season he's come back home at the "Big A" as Mike Scioscia's pitching coach. Angel starters are thriving under his tutelage as they consistently are among league leaders in Wins, ERA, and Strikeouts. Fans have seen the consistent emergence of front line starters and homegrown relievers with Butcher in the system with Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Jordan Walden, and Tyler Chatwood being among the prominent names coming from the system.

Having Butcher as pitching coach is definitely something Angel players have acknowledged as a pleasant benefit of being in the organization. Ace Jered Weaver went so far as to acknowledging Butcher as positive reason for staying in his recent press conference announcing his extension. As an Angel fan, I'd hate to see Butcher developing the arms of the prospects emerging from the Texans, Rays, or Braves.

Mike was nice enough to go the extra step to sign these cards for me before a game at Angel Stadium. I asked him to sign them on the way to watch a Dan Haren bullpen session, but he had to get going and told me he'd get me on the way out. Unfortunately the session went on a little longer than normal and I got distracted by batting practice and wandered away from the bullpen area. Luckily when rookie Tyler Chatwood was warming up for the game Butcher had a free minute and came over when I called out to him. He told me "There you are. I was looking for you earlier," when I passed him my pair of cards.

Butcher has a really legible signature and I was pretty happy to see him take his time signing the cards. It's not too often I see anyone handing him a card, normally it's an Angel hat or ticket so I was happy to get these Mike Butcher autographed cards. I was especially happy about the cards, since I've had the Upper Deck 1994 card since I was 6 as a souvenir team set from an Angel game. The 1993 Topps card I was able to get through the Diamond Giveaway and there is a sweet little golden emblem marking the inaugural season of the Rockies embedded into the card.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Big League Moment (1) Scott Downs

Well readers I thought it was about time for me to start adding a new feature to my blog. Many of you actually check in on the blog fairly frequently and I truly do appreciate your readership. After all my hours spent hunting around Angel Stadium I've had a few run-ins with current and past players that don't always make it into the blog post or have an autograph to showcase in the normal RBI format. Rather than let those moments go to waste I've decided to add the "Big League Moment" where I'll post up my interactions with the guys from the big leagues.

This inaugural post includes someone I've actually had trouble getting an autograph from, mainly because I don't have any cards for him. It seems every time I run into Scott Downs when he's signing I've already wrinkled or had my ticket signed, don't have a clean baseball, or haven't been able to get ahold of a card yet. This natural frustration led me to finally take advantage of hanging out before the game and asking him a few questions on his way into the stadium.

(Me standing along the fence and calling out) "Hey Scott, can I ask you a few quick questions?"

(Mr. Downs turning to face me and take a few steps closer) "Sure."

"What's your favorite city to play in as a visitor?"

Without missing a beat Scott responded "Boston." This is actually a fairly surprising response to get from Mr. Downs, and I'm actually fairly certain it has more to do with how nice the city of Boston is, than actual baseball performance. Lifetime Downs has only appeared in 14 games in Fenway where batters hit .317 off him with a 4.70 ERA to go with that high average. Considering he spent 6 seasons with the Blue Jays those are actually surprising for him to have that few appearances and those kind of numbers.

"Who's the toughest guy for you to get out?"

This response was also immediate and the numbers do support Downs answer, "Hideki Matsui. I have no idea why but for some reason I can't get that guy out." In 24 at-bats, Matsui has had 12 hits including 2 Doubles and a Homer.  Matsui has only struck out 4 times while driving in 7 runs. He's tied for most plate appearances against Downs with Robinson Cano at 27 and just ahead of Bobby Abreu's 26. Both are top caliber professional hitters in the same if not higher tier as Matsui, but against Downs only hit .231 and .261 respectively. Seeing as Matsui is a lefty I'm as stumped as Downs as to why he is so successful against the southpaw reliever.

Having responded to my pair of questions Downs turned to go into the clubhouse when I tossed out my final question, "Can I get a ball inside?"

(Still walking away Downs looked back) "Maybe during batting practice."

It was quick, and it was awesome. I really appreciated Scott taking a few minutes out of his day to talk to me, maybe even as much as I appreciate how lockdown he's been in the back end of the Angel bullpen.

If you readers enjoyed this Big League Moment post, please leave a comment or shoot me an email and when I have more to share I'll be sure to post them.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

RBI (35) A semi-embarrassing TTM response...

Well readers, sometimes the internet is a wonderful tool that teaches you lots of new things. Other times it leaves you hanging high and dry with incomplete information. Hopefully this blog is more of a complete source with interesting baseball tidbits, autographs, TTM information, in-person tips and stories. A few websites however led me down the wrong path with former pitcher Bud Daley.

Daley played for the Cleveland Indians from 1955-1957 and put up okay numbers while with them, but wasn't having too much success. In 50 games, including 11 starts, Daley only managed a 4.87 ERA with a 3-9 record. The Indians traded him to the Kansas City Athletics in 1958 and his career had a revival as a Kansas City starter.

Moving to the rotation allowed Daley to find a groove and he dropped his ERA a full point, putting up All-Star caliber numbers being selected to the 1959 and 1960 All-Star games. This was interestingly during the time period when there were actually 2 All Star games played in an effort to boost the player pension fund, with one game played in an NL park and the other in the AL. Daley may have been a two time All Star but attended 4 All Star games.

Having been moved to the bullpen in Kansas Daley was moved to the New York Yankees during the 1961 season. He finished 1961 as a Yankee starter and made two postseason appearances as a reliever and a starter during the World Series. He went on to be a member of the 1962 championship Yankees but as a reliever having been relegated to the bullpen besides a few spot starts for the rest of his career.

Daley's career after 10 seasons in the big leagues would leave be fairly accomplished as he'd hang up his hat a 2 time All-Star and 2 time World Series Champion. He had a 60-64 record and a 4.03 ERA with 549 Strikeouts. Of 248 games played, Daley started 116 going the distance for 36 Complete Games. Surprisingly despite his ratio of Complete Games in his starts only 3 of his Complete Games would be Shutouts.

Mr. Daley not only penned a nice signature on a1960 Topps Card I got through the Diamond Giveaway but he also took the time to answer a few questions. This is where my online research failed me and I got to a bit of a rocky start.

Were there any challenges to being a lefty kunckleballer?
Much to my chagrin Bud's response is short and to the point. There's not much else I can add or say about this besides the fact that I'm highly embarrassed and wanted to omit the response were it not for my journalistic integrity. Bud pointed out, "I was not a knuckleball pitcher"

How did it feel to have Berra, Mantle, and Maris behind you when you took the mound?
I'm going to guess my first question rubbed Bud the wrong way because his response wasn't a peak into hallowed memories of three Yankee legends. Instead Mr. Daley decided it was "Great"

What was your favorite part of being an All Star?
Seeing as this year we had 80 something All Stars, being named an All Star has lost a bit of it's allure. Considering the rosters weren't as enormous in '59 and '60 Bud seemed to appreciate being selected "Being from KC on a last place team"

Was either of your World Series Championships more meaningful?
Bud selected something that most people can agree is a great accomplishment and honor. Despite having started with the Kansas City Athletics he went to the New York Yankees and in "1961 being the winning pitcher in last game"

Of all your years in the Majors, was there ever one moment or memory that stuck with you throughout and after your career?
Recognizing the roots of his success and career revival I think Daley picked something pretty personal when he shared "KC All Star game" as his career's highlight memory forgoing the two Yankee rings.

After reading his responses I'm very glad I was able to get a Kansas City Athletics card since he seemed to cherish that time even more than his championships in New York. The signature is clean, tight, and in a great location for one of my favorite autographs.

Mr. Daley was kind enough sign the card and respond to my letter sent to his home address in 8 days.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

RBI (34) A familiar face...

Well I've already posted a few items signed by former Angel pitcher Clyde Wright, but Clyde's such a great guy I've gotten a few more autographs and had a conversation or two with him while at the stadium.

I think sometimes we Angel fans take having a former Major Leaguer like Clyde so easily available to us for granted, but I definitely appreciate him being so ready to sign for fans. I especially appreciate him taking the time to put inscriptions on anything you ask him to. It's nice having an old timer who has such an accomplished record really show he's in it for the fans. I've never tried getting Clyde TTM since he's around the stadium so often, but I suspect he'd be a great player for new collectors to start with. I'm sure he'd be happy to write down the no-hitter if asked for it with your request.

The Angels had a TV special where Clyde is interviewed and he made one of his regular jokes about being in a rotation with Nolan Ryan. I spotted Clyde sitting out having a soda by one of his two BBQ stands in the stadium the home stand after I saw the interview and walked over to him. I told him I saw the interview and thought it was funny and as he signed for he told me the second part of his Ryan jokes. They go as follows and are even better when you imagine them in Skeeter's Tennessee accent..."What no one ever realizes is that between me and Nolan Ryan we had 8 no-hitters...he had 7 and I had the other." The second part was equally as amusing, "Between me and Ryan we had 6,000 strike outs. He had 5,700 and I got the rest." 

When he was signing the bottom card I asked him to write the 100 Wins he finished his career with. Laughing Clyde started to sign the card and said "Yeah I'll write the 100 Wins, but only if I don't have to put the 111 Losses." Like I said, Clyde's a fun guy to have around and meet.

The Angel card is a 1972 Topps that I got at a card show, and the Brewers is a 1975 Topps I got through the Diamond Giveaway. Clyde signed these Topps cards on two separate occasions at Angel Stadium.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

RBI (33) A star card...

Okay well maybe it's not really a card of a literal star, but there are a few stars involved. Angel rookie All Star closer Jordan Walden's 2011 rookie star to be precise. There's a new star in Southern California and Anaheim is on the way to becoming "Wally's World 2.0" where the speed limit is 100 MPH.

The Texas native was taken by the Angels in the 12th round of the 2006 draft and is proving to be a bargain steal for the halos. The young closer previously had been working through the Angels' minor league rotations until 2010 when he was converted into a reliever. It was a short jump from the minor league bullpen's into the Major League club's pen at the end of the 2010 season.

2010 was a good beginning for Walden when he flashed promise in 16 games, including his first career save, racking up 23 Strikeouts to post a 2.35 ERA in his appearances. In 2011 he was to be a key part of the bridge leading to Fernando Rodney in the 9th, but Rodney's early struggles led to Walden being the club's closer a week into the season.

It's been a strong season for Walden so far with some analysts even putting him in the Rookie of the Year conversation with Michael Pineada and teammate Mark Trumbo. It's been so strong a season Walden was Mariano Rivera's replacement in the 2011 All Star Game, marking his first of hopefully many appearances in the Mid-Summer Classic.

The Angel's 50th Anniversary has had many celebrations for the franchise's history, the fans, and individual player accomplishment's. This has been a year of celebrating and establishing new milestones for the players and franchise, and on July 21st Walden etched his name into the franchise record books. When he nailed down his 23rd Save against the Rangers at home Walden set the new franchise record for Saves by a rookie.

The 2011 season has seen Wally post a 3-3 record with 26 Saves, 49 Strikeouts, and a 2.74 ERA in 48 games. Batters have only been able to hit .217 against him, and those stats are even more impressive when the controversial call at the plate during the Dodger's series is taken away.
Jordan Walden autographed his 2011 Topps Heritage Rookie Card for me before the game he set the Angel's franchise record for rookie saves. Wally signed the card for me and as I was getting ready to put it away he was in need of a sharpie to sign for some younger fans. I passed him my sharpie back, and he was nice enough to put his number inscribe "ASG '11" on my card after he was finished signing for the kids. It was great to have him add that touch to remember his rookie year, and I really appreciated him taking the time to do that for me.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

RBI (32) An interesting TTM combination...

At least that tends to be the way former pitcher Bob Milacki got things done throughout his career. Mr. Milacki has had some interesting highlights throughout his career and I'm sure he's having some of those moments still as he works for the Phillies Organization.

Milacki was taken in the 2nd round of the 1983 draft by the Orioles, and made his MLB debut in 1988 with Balitmore. It was with the Orioles he gained most of his career's shine by pitching in two memorable games. In his rookie year he led the American League with 36 games started and posted a 14-12 record with 3 Complete Games and 2 Shut Outs.

On April 23, 1989 Milacki posted a complete game shutout against the Minnesota Twins, but did so facing only the minimum 27 batters. He wasn't credited with a perfect game or no hitter as he gave up 3 hits and 2 walks, but he was able to escape trouble thanks to coaxing 4 key double plays. The game was not only his first Shut Out of the season, but was also his first win for the year.

Two years later while still an Oriole Milacki combined with Mike Flanagan, Mark Williamson, and Gregg Olson to no hit the Oakland A's. Milacki had put up six scoreless frames with no hits, but had issued out 3 walks prior to being pulled by manager Johnny Oates.

Baltimore would be the highlight of Milacki's career as he left at the end of the 1992 season for Cleveland, Kansas City, Seattle, and a stint pitching in Japan. He would only make 22 starts in the 3 MLB seasons he played after leaving Baltimore, despite having 109 starts in his 5 years with the Orioles.  In 143 appearances, Milacki would post a 39-47 record with 8 Complete Games, 5 Shut Outs, 387 Strikeouts, and a 4.38 ERA.
Bob Milacki autographed this 1992 Score card mailed to him at the Double-A Reading Phillies facility. He responded to me after 54 Days.