Monday, January 28, 2013

Ted Williams 1955 Topps

Recently a family member approached me with a request. They were clearing through their older possessions and collectibles and were getting ready to sell off part of their collection so others could enjoy them now. One thing they had decided to part with was part of their collection of vintage baseball cards. I'm not sure what the whole collection looks like yet, but it was an instant "yes of course" just for the chance to be in contact with some vintage cardboard.

Knowing how much of a Red Sox fan I am however, they decided to gift me this very special Ted Williams 1955 Topps card rather than sell it. I am very touched by this gesture especially seeing as I know I'd never be able to to buy this card for myself with even low end PSA 2 versions of this classic sought after card running $100. I appreciate being given this cardboard treasure and hope one day to pass it on down as a family heirloom going from one baseball lover to another. 

Mickey, Ted, and Stan are now all gone. Baseballs, bats, and photos are all fantastic  mementos to remember their greatness and memory, however I think their legacy is best immortalized in these vintage pieces of cardboard that survive the test of time. The vibrant colors and eye catching images are a snapshot from their prime as their legend grew with each passing season to become the immortals we know them as now.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A True Class Act by the Detroit Tigers

I originally was not going to write this post, but as I was sorting through some of my folders I decided I had to make this public. It's too kind a story not to share.

If any of you are regular readers of Baseball By The Letters then you are aware of the recent necessity for Virgil Trucks to end all his fan mail and TTM activity due to his health. When Tom from BBTL passed on the message that all Mr. Trucks would appreciate from his fans would be a kind word on his behalf to Bud Selig on behalf of his case for Cooperstown I knew that I had to take the time for someone who took so much time for all of us collectors.

I did not write a letter to Mr. Selig, because I wasn't sure if the Commissioner is one for his own mail. Instead I wrote a letter to David Dombrowski, President and CEO of the Detroit Tigers informing him of Virgil's recent need to step down as an unofficial but beloved ambassador of the Tigers. I requested if it was possible he could mention Mr. Trucks to those on the Veterans Committee since I thought a word from the power of a franchise would go farther than my own.

Mr. Dombrowski sent me a copy of a letter he wrote to Mr. Trucks and I won't post any excerpts, but I will state it was a classy and touching note. I sincerely hope it brought some joy to Mr. Trucks to see the familiar Tigers logo waiting for him in his mailbox one morning. With all the controversies and scandals you hear about what is and always will be a child's game it was nice to see someone rise above the business end and extend a hand of friendship.

I tip my hat to you Mr. Dombrowski, and I thank you again Mr. Trucks for your correspondence and gift of your autograph.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

RPS (5) Cory Hahn and Trinity Bat Company 2nd Annual Homerun Challenge

Many of you have probably seen the fine posts posted by David and Matt about the event but I thought I would chip in my thoughts on the benefit. First off if you don't know who Cory Hahn is you should read a brief summary of his story which is truly inspirational.

Cory remains a fine symbol of inspiration and hard work and his steadfast resolve to recover is part of why the Trinity event is so popular. I'd like to thank the Trinity Bat Company and Mater Dei High School for their support of Cory and helping to create such a great event. Supporting Cory so he can continue to inspire those facing hardships through demonstrating his own determination.
The event breaks down into a Home Run derby with different categories of hitters, highlighted by the pro division with real MLB players and minor leaguers taking swings. It's fast becoming a favorite event amongst autograph seekers considering the friendly atmosphere and timing during the off season. I know I definitely enjoyed last years event and this year was even better.

Players arrived to the event to a fairly large crowd of autograph seekers. Some were more friendly to the wave of cards, bats, and photos waiting for them while others wanted to get to the cages to warm up first before they signed. Trayvon Robinson of the Orioles was kind enough to sign for us walking in and you can see the crowd waiting for him.
Kyle from Addictive Artwork was there with some of his quality paintings. You can see his work on his Twitter and see some very nice pieces that many pros have commissioned for themselves from Josh Reddick, Mike Trout, Hank Conger and Mike Adams.
If you notice in the background there is a guy in bright green shoes, that'd be Daric Barton hanging out in the background waiting for some food from a food truck. I didn't get any food from that food truck but I did get a burger and root beer from the Burger Monster Food Truck. It was pretty delicious especially in the middle of a busy day. If you're in Orange County looking for a new tasty spot to try look up their truck on Twitter.
The event organizers set up a few tables to display Trinity bats, silent auction items, and for the players to have a designated signing area. Since I couldn't move in line and was busy handling my items when I got close enough you may be able to get a peek of Mark Trumbo getting ready to sit down to sign.
I thought I had come pretty well prepared for the event, but I was completely mistaken and overwhelmed by the amount of minor leaguers who were there to support the event. I had almost no supplies for them and wasn't sure who was who so I minimized my prospect graphing and stuck to what I knew. I think I came away from the event pretty well in the end.

On his way in I was able to get Trayvon Robinson to sign this 2012 Topps Heritage card. Trayvon is strictly 1 autograph per person especially since he takes the time to personalize his autograph. I know some collectors don't like it, especially since in Southern California there are plenty of dealers, but I enjoy that he wrote "To Ryan Best Wishes"
After Trayvon I was able to get Daric Barton to sign from the designated autograph table. He signed this sharp looking 2010 Allen and Ginter card for me and was surprised when I asked if he could inscribe his "Fielding Bible 2010" but was nice enough to write it for me.
While waiting in line for Mark Trumbo I was able to get top Rockies 3rd base prospect Nolan Arenado's autograph on his way in. I'm not normally a big fan of prospecting but I think a 2 time All-Star Futures Game participant with tons of offensive potential was more than worth a ROMLB and he was nice enough to sweet spot it. I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do in the bigs with the Rockies.
After I stayed in line for Trumbo I was able to get my moment with him at the front of the line when I handed him my custom bat to sign. I told him how I looked up a game used bat of his online and had my own Trinity pro model made to the same specs that he uses. He tried to check the nob but it was covered by a Trinity sticker so he actually put down the sharpie, took a half swing and nodded that the bat felt right. I was really happy to not only have gotten it made right but that the big leaguer I had it made to be like had swung it. Mark signed the bat and was nice enough to inscribe "All Star" for me.
Following Trumbo, Dodger great Steve Garvey sat down at the table and he autographed my bat also. He was kind enough to inscribe "'74 NL MVP" underneath his name. 
On his way out of the event I was able to get Ian Stewart autographed this 2011 Topps card. If you look up his past stats you'll see he put his Cubs number 2 instead of his Rockies number.
Also on his way out of the event I was able to get Steve Garvey again as he was walking with his son, prospect Ryan Garvey. Steve Garvey autographed this Gold Glove Baseball for me under the logo and I was happy to add another slick fielder to my collection of Gold Glovers on the special balls. 

I'd like to note that Garvey showed a real sign of class agreeing to come to the event and sign seeing as he was leaving the charity benefit to go sign at a paid signing. Not many players do free signings let alone on the same day they could be charging their fans. I really appreciated him making this appearance.
After Garvey I was able to get one of the prospects who made an unexpected appearance at the event. Padres No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft Max Fried come to show his support and he was nice enough to inscribe "#7 Pick" on a Trinity business card.
The last thing I got for the day was one from none other than Cory Hahn's autograph. 
It was a great event and I'm very happy with how everything went. I know most graphers tend to walk away from events like this with racks of balls and pages of cards signed, but I prefer the one or two approach with the nice inscriptions for my collection. 

The Trinity Bat Co. has definitely made a lasting mark with big leaguers from the high quality of their bats and events. I don't think anyone left with anything but the best experience. I'm glad to report that the whole event raised more than $10,000 for the Cory Hahn Fund and I'm proud to have partaken the past two years. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

RBI (119) More 1987 TTM Goodness...

I've got to make one thing clear, I very much enjoy working on my 1987 Topps set. I'll obviously never finish it considering there are a substantial number of non-signers, expensive Hall of Famers, and players/managers who have passed on but I enjoy the long arduous task. Maybe one day I'll be close and have hit the lotto so I can buy the missing cards but for now it's all in good fun.

One of the latest 1987 Topps cards I was able to get signed TTM was by pitcher Dan Schatzeder. Dan was taken by the Montreal Expos in the 3rd round of the 1976 draft. He debuted in 1977 for the Expos at the age of 22 and continued playing for 15 seasons retiring finally after the 1991 season. He played for the Expos, Tigers, San Francisco Giants, Phillies, Twins, Indians, Astros, Mets, and the Royals. He was  traded from the Phillies to the Twins during the 1987 season and went on to win game 6 of the '87 World Series for the eventual champion Twins. When he retired Schatzeder was 69-68 in 121 Starts and 383 relief appearances. He had 10 Saves and 18 Complete Games tossed in amongst all of his appearances, supported by a career 3.74 ERA and 748 Strikeouts.
Mr. Schatzeder was kind enough to sign this 1987 Topps for me from his home address after a 41 day turn around. Pretty quick considering I sent it to him during the holiday season, and is the 25th return of the 365 challenge.

One further note I really enjoy the '87 Topps considering how well they sign as cards and the plethora of great mustaches you see players rocking in their cards.

Monday, January 7, 2013

RBI (118) ROY TTM Response...

There are times where autograph collecting and TTM can be pretty defeating or discouraging. Athletes today often don't sign for fans anymore, but every once in a while you hear about a player who goes above and beyond for the fans. Even more rare are those players who are so friendly AND are fantastic top level players. You've heard my stories about David Price, but a TTM signer who I've learned is pretty reliable and being amongst the top of the league is closer Craig Kimbrel.

Kimbrel was taken by the Braves in the 3rd round of the 2008 and debuted as a September call up in 2010. After that the story was over for other teams when it came to the 9th inning with Kimbrel quickly becoming one of the most dominant closers of his generation. He won a unanimous 2011 NL Rookie of the Year Award and was a member of the All Star team. He gained his 2nd All Star nod in 2012 on the way to the NL Rolaids Relief Man as the best reliever for the year. Both seasons had him lead the NL in Saves, while in 2011 he established the MLB record for most saves by a rookie. That is a record I find highly difficult to believe will be broken seeing as 46 Saves by any closer is an elite year let alone by a rookie. In 3 seasons so far Kimbrel has a 1.46 ERA, 89 Saves, and 283 Strikeouts in 160.1 innings. In 2012 Kimbrel was so dominant that he became the first pitcher in MLB history to strikeout more than half the batters he faced. It's scary to think he's only 24 and already accomplished so much. So long as he remains healthy the Braves have found a true crown jewel to lead their bullpen.
I was very excited and happy to open my envelope to find this 2012 Allen and Ginter card autographed by Kimbrel after 86 days c/o the Braves. This was part of my 365 challenge and is the 24th autograph response I received.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

RBI (117) A Veteran TTM response...

I was happy to see a response waiting for me in the mail that included a letter response. I opened it to see former starting pitcher Mr. Walt Terrell had replied to my TTM request.

Terrell was taken by the Texas Rangers in the 33rd round of the 1980 draft. He was traded to the Mets in 1982 and made his debut with the organization that year. It was the beginning of an 11 year career that would take him from the Mets, Tigers, Padres, Yankees, Pirates, and back to the Tigers to close out his career. He'd retire with 111 Wins, a career 4.22 ERA and 929 Strikeouts. He'd throw an astonishing 56 Complete games, 14 of which were shutouts, in his 294 career starts.
Mr. Terrell was kind enough to not only sign my 1987 Topps cards but also signed my index card and answered a few of my questions.

What was your favorite team to play for?
Despite playing for six teams throughout his career Walt said, "I enjoyed them all"

Who was your preferred catcher?
His career allowed Terrell to pitch to seasoned veterans Mike Fitzgerald, Matt Nokes and Mike Heath. Walt responded, "They were all very good and each had something unique about their game"

How did you find out you were debuting for the Mets in 1982?
I found this answer to be very revealing as research into this response told me that Terrell's time in AAA was spent learning how to prepare for the big leagues by former top flight closer of his era, "Tidewater coach Jack Aker told me" Aker set the single season saves record of his time with 32 in 1966. Such consistent performance and numerous appearances must have helped influence Terrell's readiness to go the distance and do what was needed for his 56 Complete Games.

Did you ever talk to Wally Joyner about the 9th inning hit?
On August 20th, 2986 Joyner came up to bat in Tiger Stadium at top of the 9th with 1 Out left before Terrell would cement his name in history with a no-hitter. The at-bat went Joyner's way and "We never brought it up"

It was great to get this response from Mr. Terrell after 16 days quickly from his home address.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The 365 Challenge of 2012 Is Over

Well folks it's the first week of 2013. The 365 challenge has officially come to a very unsuccessful finish. The words "utter disaster" come to mind, but it'd be a little harsh and discount the kind responses of the letters I sent that did returned.

Of my hoped 365 letters I sent out 91 letters to current players, executives and retirees of the game. My 91 is only a 19 letter improvement from last years numbers. To make matters worse of the 91 letters that I sent out I only received 23 responses. In 2011 I sent out 72 letters with 31 responses.

I came to some realizations though as I did this challenge:

Number 1: It's not fun. At all.

The entire process becomes cumbersome when I have to choose a player, research them, write them, write a blog post explaining why I wrote them, update the ttm page, update the 365 challenge page, link all the appropriate pages and then finally get to mail my letter. And then blog about any response.

The sheer prospect of such time consumption made me grow a genuine distaste for really getting into any sort of significant letter writing kick.

I got into TTM because I truly enjoy baseball. I want to learn about the history of the game and it's many facets from the men who played the game. Trying to hit a specific number of letters sent out while maintaining that integrity without making it a mechanical process was too difficult.

Number 2: It ain't cheap.

I also came to the realization that it's a semi expensive hobby when you start cranking out those kinds of numbers. Postage for the letter to the player and your return envelope? Envelopes themselves. Index cards. Baseball cards for specific players. Cheap it was not. I'm not saying it broke the bank, but I realized as I dropped twenty after twenty at the post office that I should at lease be enjoying the process more for what I'm spending.

Number 3: Al Kaline sucks.

Yes I'm still pissed about this.

Number 4: There are some people out there in the baseball world that don't suck. Al Kaline take note.

Carl Erskine
Jerry Dipoto
Bobby Doerr

Now I honestly do appreciate every single TTM response that I have ever gotten, but those individuals have definitely gone above and beyond to help a stranger learn a little about the world of baseball.

Number 5: I will try again.

That's right. Despite all the negatives I've listed it was an experience. There's something magical about a no-hitter. The anticipation of every pitch. The holding of your breath when you hear the bat connect to the ball and you can only watch to see if someone can make a play on it. It's a question if can he go the distance. Will time and circumstance come together for something special to happen for 9 innings. I took my no-no to the 3rd inning. Maybe not in 2013 but one day I'll step back onto the mound and see if I can go the distance.