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.