But, that’s not how it worked. Instead, they (a) put the signing on the top concourse level and (b) only allowed people with (free) autograph vouchers to attend – fortunately I’d spotted when those were made available a few weeks back. This was much better than last year, where they arbitrarily cut the line off after a certain amount of people, and meant that you didn’t have to be first in line at the stadium to get to the signing. They did cut off vouchers at some point.
What they also did, though, and did not announce, was split the Legends into two different groups, based on the last name of who reserved the vouchers. So if you were A-K you got one group of guys, and L-Z got another. This was annoying, and I ran into many disgruntled autograph-seeking fans who were unhappy about the endeavor. We were in the A-K line. Here’s the problem – 3 of our allotted 12 Legends were missing. So the group started off with Ron Cook, a fine lefty who pitched a great season in 1970, then hurt his arm in winter ball and saw some limited time in 1971 before his big league days were done. He was also at last year’s signing, so I took the time to whip up a custom for him this time around. Ron really dug it, and told Craig and I that this photo was from Spring Training in Cocoa Beach, FL.
Scipio Spinks and Billy Smith were the next two at the table – both of them were at last year’s event as well. Smith only had one Astros card, the 1982 Topps Astros Prospects which he shares with Danny Heep and Bobby Sprowl – both of whom were on the ’81 card as well. I was out of stuff for him, and unable to find a good photo couldn’t make a custom. But I did find another great Spinks image, and he thought the custom card was really cool. Thon saw it hit the table and said, “Look at that handsome fella! Who’s that?” with a big grin. Spinks had speed both on the mound and on the basepaths, enough so that the Cardinals took advantage of the latter by having him pinch run while he was there. Unfortunately, this led to him winding up in a play at the plate with Johnny Bench in mid 1972, and he tore several ligaments in his right knee while scoring. He made it back for 8 games at the big league level in 1973, but wasn’t ever quite the same and toiled a few more seasons in the minors before hanging them up.
Another true legend, Larry Dierker, was next to Smith. Larry made his debut with the Colt .45s as a September call-up in 1964, starting on his 18th birthday. He pitched for the ‘Stros through 1976, tossing a no-hitter, and after retiring went on to several other positions in the organization, including broadcaster and managing the club from 1997-2002. He’s almost synonymous with the club’s history. I’ve been fortunate to get Larry’s autograph on several occasions, so I took the time to try out one of my new custom designs for this – it again went over very well. These customs are based on the 1962 Topps Football set, and is one of the first prototypes I’ve made of it. Hm, I ought to detail more of my customs in some posts.
Last, but certainly not least of all the Legends at our table was the Toy Cannon himself, the original slugger for the club: Jimmy Wynn. I’d prepared one of those ’62 football customs for him as well, but I’d also brought a pair of balls to get signed, just in case. Again, Mr. Wynn has been at the last few of these events I’ve been to, between Legends Weekend and FanFest, so I’ve already got a few cards signed by him. I was nervous about how a ball would turn out, though – he’s in a wheelchair and while he takes a very deliberate and determined approach to signing, I know that sometimes with the older guys balls and flats are completely different stories. However, I noticed a guy a few spots up in line getting a ball signed, and it looked good, so I hurriedly rushed to get one out. It turned out amazing, and he even added the Toy Cannon inscription I requested. I’m so happy to add this one to the shelf in my office.
“Wait – he said last at the table, but there’s clearly more than that in this post!”
Yes, indeed – you are correct! The A-K voucher table was at one end of the top concourse, the L-Z voucher tables were at the other end. Craig and I decided that since the game didn’t start for another 45 minutes, we might as well test our luck at the other end and just see if we could get in the line anyway. Well, the guy there was a stickler, and despite our protest and the very light line, he wouldn’t let us past the stanchions.
I took a gander to see who had actually made it, as there were still a few guys missing at this set of tables as well, including Bob Aspromonte, the original fan favorite of the .45s. Still, there were a few guys I wanted, so we stepped to the side, and I pulled out some cards in case the situation changed. It did, and the ladies that took over the line monitoring originally gave us the same rejection – but when we lamented the fact that they split the group and hadn’t announced it, and pointed out that there were only ten people left in line, they – well, they still said no. But then they had pity on us and relented. So here’s to more autographs! I’ll try to be a little quicker on these.
First up was catcher Johnny Edwards. I’d written him in the past and received several extra photos from him – he’s tremendously nice. I found a spare ’74, and whipped up another Wilson-Franks style custom. He obliged me to take one of the team provided postcards as well.
Next was Jackie Moore – bench coach for the middling 2008 club helmed by Cecil Cooper, and former manager of the Round Rock Express. Moore spent one season in the majors with Detroit and has decades of coaching and managing experience. He remarked that someone must have “hit a real big home run” in the moment depicted on the custom I made.
Craig had opted for the ’89 Upper Deck, which I got signed by Young at last year’s event. That card shows Young making a fabulous home-run robbing catch at the wall, which Craig remarked was one of his favorite cards as a kid. Gerald went into story time, telling us, “oh yeah – at Dodger Stadium! I saw my first game as a kid there, with my brother,” and went on to recount the memory. He handed me a postcard as well.
Former Astros first baseman – and skipper of the club during my formative years of fandom – Art Howe was up next. I asked when the last time he’d seen one of the SSPC cards was, to which he remarked, “Hey, my rookie card! It’s been a while!” I couldn’t resist the ’81 Donruss with the tequila sunrise striping so fabulously on display either. He handed me a postcard as well.
Short-term ‘Stro Philip Barzilla was first. He’s got one Astros card with varying parallels – the 2006 Topps ’52 Edition, but I was unable to locate one. Perhaps next time.
Barzilla was at the very first table. Since the other guy I wanted was next-to-last among the signers, I decided it would be kind of a jerk move to cut down the tables just to get him. Since I was waiting patiently in line, I got another pair of cards signed by Warwick and Thon. I’d pulled the ’63 Topps out of my binder, so now I’ll need another for the collection.
Phew! Well, I certainly killed some hunker time with that post. It’s now 4:00 pm and still no sign of that next band of rain. Perhaps we won’t see any more until tonight. We’re still ready, though.
Until the next update,