Putting 2019 In Ink: Many Happy Returns

I’m in the midst of trying to stay on top of what’s currently coming in while knowing that for the great many unblogged trades of 2019, it’s just going to be a while, most likely, before they see the light of – day? But I do want to take a moment and attempt to recap some of the other items that came in last year. Oh, and I have some non-card posts to put together as well, all of which means that I have a lot of drafts in the works at the moment.

This one is going to be about my (successful) TTM efforts in 2019. I haven’t written letters in a while, so as I started putting this post together I realized I’d had much more roll in than I previously thought. Then I discovered that I’d already blogged about a third of it, and that another handful of them had been from private signings (you’ll get a separate post for those), so I cut this one back a little bit. You’re welcome.

Eddie Robinson: 4/2, 48 days.
We’ll start off with the oldest of the remaining 2019 returns, which was an absolute delight. These came back to me in late April. I’d had a mind to write to Mr. Robinson, who is now the oldest living major leaguer at a young 99 years and is also the last surviving member of the 1948 Cleveland Indians, for a good while.

In some early photo research a few years ago, I’d discovered some early Colt .45 photographs in the UH archives, due to their inclusion in George Kirksey’s* papers. That included a spring training shot of Robinson in a Houston uniform, which puzzled me greatly. A bit of further digging uncovered that Robinson was the club’s farm director, brought in by his former manager and Houston GM Paul Richards. That had cemented it for me, and I whipped up one of my Phillips Magazine-style customs, and sent a pair of them along with this miscut 1957** Topps. I debated also dropping my copy of his 1956 Topps card in the envelope, but decided that it ought to stay ink-free, due to its provenance. Eddie requires a $10 donation, which I supplied, and in addition to keeping a copy of a custom for himself, he signed the protective index cards I’d added as well.

* While the name most synonymous with early major league baseball in Houston is often Judge Roy Hofheinz, Kirksey is considered the father of major league ball in Houston for his role in bringing the team here.

** I have almost as many unsigned 1957 Topps as signed at this point – and no I didn’t mistype that.

Johnny O’Brien: 2/2, 43 days.
This entry features a lovely return from one of the O’Brien twins. Johnny was on a couple episodes of my favorite baseball podcast, Effectively Wild,* and recounted with incredible detail some far-flung stories from his playing days. The O’Brien twins were the first brothers to share an infield, and while Eddie passed a few years ago, I’m very glad that Johnny is still with us. Seriously, go listen to those podcasts, his mind is still tack-sharp. In fact, the family name might claw its way back into the majors.

When I came across the 1994 Topps Archives (a set which reprinted the ’54 set with a few new extras) card here, I knew I needed to put it in the mail. I’d snagged that absolutely lovely 1956 Topps up top at a show, I think, after I’d made up my mind to write him. Not only is Johnny’s mind still sharp, but his penmanship is as well. I was very happy with these, which came back in mid-June.

*It just dawned on me that Eddie Robinson was an Effectively Wild guest not long ago as well, but that occurred after I’d written him.

Alonzo “Candy” Harris: 2/2, 7 days.
The other super-cool older return was this swell pair of signed cards from Alonzo Harris. At just 19 years old, Candy had an extremely short cup of coffee with Houston in 1967, making it into 6 games and garnering just one at-bat and five pinch-running appearances. No, he never even made it into the field on defense. You see, Harris made his debut on April 13, 1967* and on May 26th he was summoned for military service. While he would play another five years of pro ball, he’d never get back above the AA level, which is a real shame. Sure, he wasn’t what we would call a talented hitter, but he had some real wheels. In 1966, during 58 games with Baltimore’s rookie-level Bluefield Orioles, Harris stole 34 bases. He also has one of the coolest spring training photos I’ve stumbled across, which I’d been dying to make into a custom. He kept his copy and got mine back to me in a flash, crossing another name off the Astro-graphs needs list.

* Just one other player debuted on this date: Tom Seaver.

Deacon Jones: 7/5, 6 days.
My returns in the early days of summer were limited, but they were certainly not limited in quality. I nabbed another former Astros coach with this return from Deacon Jones, who still serves in an advisory role for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League. I’d come across an old press photo of him with the White Sox, which I decided would be good fodder to whip up into a 1960 Leaf-style custom. I had a heck of a time finding a workable Astros photo of him* from his days as a hitting coach. Jones only spent one season on the big-league bench in Houston, but put in around a decade of work on the minor-league side, and I finally snagged this from a scan of a team “photo album” magazine. Deacon rushed these back out to me, signing all of them and a pair of protective index cards, despite my telling him he could hang onto the extras. This return was made even sweeter later in the year, however, when I got to meet him at a Skeeters game and hand him some copies.

* The other two I could track down were a black and white headshot and a very dark and underexposed snapshot. Finding this was a hallelujah moment.

Dick Schofield: 4/4, 19 days.
I’m a sucker for baseball families, particularly when those involve famous players, Astros, or Pirates. Dick Schofield Jr.’s father, Dick “Ducky” Schofield, is just one of those Pirates who I have actually had the pleasure of meeting ages ago. I’ve got a signed 5×7 to show for it, and should probably pick up a card and write him. But this isn’t about Ducky, it’s about Dick Jr. and the fact that he signed this quartet of lovely* cards for me in just a few weeks, courtesy of the Louisville bats. This just furthers my assertion that 1989 Score is a great set and that it and 1989 Topps are excellent for signing.

* Yes, the ’95 Fleer is a lovely photo even if it is design hell.

Joel Skinner, 3/3, 94 days.
See above, pretty much everything still applies. 1989 Score is still awesome. Baseball families are still awesome. Heck, even that 1985 Topps rookie card is awesome. Joel signed these for me after about three months, and they were sent care of the Rochester Red Wings, where he was coaching. He’s got a swell signature to match his father’s (Bob Skinner of the 1960 Pirates!), and now I’m probably going to hold my breath and send the already-signed-by-Bob copy of the Father-Son card from 1985 Topps. Hmm, maybe I should just pick up another copy to be safe.

Dereck Rodriguez, 2/2, 224 days.
Oh, boy! More family ties, right? I’d actually given up on this one coming back, figuring that I missed the window which Nick V. was fortunate enough to hit in 2018. These D-Rod cards came back from spring training over seven months later, making me believe that perhaps Pudge’s kid wasn’t responding anymore. Fortunately, that turned out to be false and I was very happy to receive his rookie card and a 2019 Heritage (which just so happens to look impeccable with some ink) back in the mail.

Darin Downs: 3/3, 27 days.
Back in August, with the season waning, the bug hit me pretty hard again, and I made an effort to dash off a dozen or so letters to some players and coaches that I wanted to target before the season’s close – particularly those in the minors and independent leagues, where the season halts even earlier. This included several guys for whom I needed to make Astros customs, so I loaded up a couple sheets to print and dashed off a batch of letters. Short-term ‘Stro Darin Downs was among them, and he sent these back from his station with the Long Island Ducks in just under a month. Huzzah, another Astro-graph! He didn’t keep the extras, and I actually just traded one of these off to Billy of Astros A to Z fame, who is generally speaking much further along in the Astro-graph project than I am.

Jimmy Paredes: 2/2, 61 days.
Another part of that mad dash was former Astros infielder Jimmy Paredes, who spent the year with the independent Somerset Patriots. I’d chalked this one up as another longshot, and once the Atlantic League season had drawn to a close I promptly wrote it off. I’d tried writing Jimmy before, and figured that if the indy league mailbox didn’t work, perhaps I could enlist Nick V. and his kiddos in 2020. Much to my surprise, though, these two beauties landed back in my mailbox after two months, just a couple weeks after the season’s end. Woohoo!

Tom Lawless: 3/3, days.
Another part of that brief dash of letter-writing was former Astros skipper Tom Lawless. Yes, the infamous 1987 World Series bat-flipper and only player ever traded for Pete Rose did in fact serve briefly as the interim manager of the Astros when they unceremoniously dumped Bo Porter with just 24 games* left in the 2014 season. Lawless has a beautiful signature, and I think it really makes a pair of excellent junk wax cards pop here. I was also quite happy to have him sign a copy of my custom featuring him hitting fungoes to the ‘Stros, of which he kept the extra. That always makes me feel good, like my little bit of weird work has been appreciated.

* Lawless went 11-13 at the helm.

Ron Villone: 4/3, days.
Villone was another member of that final push, and was serving with the Tennessee Smokies when I sent these off. The mostly reliever had two middling stints with Houston. In 2001, he worked exclusively out of the bullpen and was fine in his half-season with a club that I recall being outrageously bad given the talent it had, going 5-7 with a 5.56 ERA (84 ERA+, 4.67 FIP) and struck out 65 of the 301 batters he faced. In 2003, he came back and somehow assumed a starting role, going 6-6 across 19 games – all starts – with a 4.13 ERA (106 ERA+) and striking out 91 of 449 batters. Ron signed both of my customs and a glorious card from the 1999 Kahn’s Reds team set, which I picked up as a giveway on a road trip* in 1999, as well as a 1994 UD Minors card of his which had popped up in my collection.

* Which I desperately ought to blog about.

Buddy Bell: 1/1, 11 days.
Rich Gedman: 1/1, 15 days.
These two were another pair of short-term ‘Stros who got nabbed via the August letter-writing scheme. I’d already gotten Buddy via Reds spring training (and might try again this year), but had always wanted to put this glorious ’89 Score into the binder instead of a middling 1989 Topps card. I just couldn’t locate it in the waning days of spring training when I tossed that first request in the mail. Remedied!

Gedman, meanwhile, was a case of third time’s the charm. After a couple failures, I decided to chuck this 1991 Upper Deck card into an envelope once more and cross my fingers. The other two times I’d tried, I’d received nothing back, despite some documented successes on SCN. I figured if I struck out, I’d just resort to shelling out for a signed copy. But Gedman got back to me in just two weeks via the PawSox this time. Astro-graph finally acquired!

Trey Hillman: 5/3, 38 days.
I nabbed one more former Astros coach in a last gasp at the end of the year. This one was actually sent out mid-September to the Marlins, where Hillman has been coaching. I sincerely hope he gets another shot at managing in the big leagues, because he could achieve a truly unique feat if he were to win a championship. That would add to his one in the minors, one in NPB (Japan) and one in the KBO (Korea). He’s already the only person to do that, and it’d be pretty swell to see him add to the trophy case. I was pretty stoked when these, and another index card, made it my way in late October.

Alright, when I talked about the Dereck Rodriguez request up there, I mentioned spring training requests I’d written off – well, this one had certainly been chalked up to lost, because I sent it to Mr. Brocail at Rangers spring training – IN 2016.

Doug Brocail: 2/2, 1276 days.
Yeah, you read that right. This one came back after three and a half years! I absolutely did not expect this one to make it back to the mailbox. Heck I just counted myself fortunate that I had addressed this one to my then fairly new PO box, otherwise I’m sure I wouldn’t have ever seen it back. This one took a while, but Astro-graph finally acquired!

Oh, but that’s not all. Because this trio of beloved Kevin Haverbusch cards was sent out back in April – OF 2015!

Kevin Haverbusch: 3/3, 1576 days.
Yes, this actually took four and a half years to return, but it finally did. I was gobsmacked – mainly because I adored Haverbusch, who certainly got a raw deal with Pittsburgh and was unjustly denied his shot at the big leagues. I’d heard he was working with a baseball clinic and sent it there, then I suppose he had stopped working with them. I watched Kevin a few times in Altoona during trips up to PA to spend time with my dad’s parents, and so I was really hoping this would come back. Perhaps he returned to the clinic, or perhaps these were just waiting in a pile on his desk forever. Either way, I was super pleased to get these back.

Graig Kreindler.
Okay, we’re going to end with one unorthodox return. The impeccable Graig Kreindler, an amazing painter and lover of baseball, was tapped to make some cards for Topps this year, part of their online exclusive 150 Years of Baseball set. One of those turned out to be a Roberto Clemente card, and I crossed my fingers and prayed that somehow this one would slip past my father’s very astute eyes for new Clemente cardboard. I’d reached out to Graig via email and inquired as to whether he could sell any prints, which he replied he could not, unfortunately. I’d suspected as much, and assured him that I would still order a few. Then I had an idea – I’d get Graig to sign a copy for my father! That would certainly be something unique which I could give him. Mr. Kreindler graciously agreed to the task. I gave dad this after we attended an Astros-Pirates game not long after Father’s Day (he’d been away for work when Father’s Day rolled around), and it was quite a surprise for him. Many thanks again to Graig for helping me out there.

Alright, as I mentioned at the top (phew, that was long ago!), there’s a short post of ink from private signings that’ll come down the pipe soon, and even a couple posts about ink I got in person last year. Who knows when I’ll actually get around to blogging that one. If you made it to the end, congrats, and thank you!

One Reply to “Putting 2019 In Ink: Many Happy Returns”

  1. Looks like you had a very successful year! I’d love to get back into sending TTM’s, but the cost of postage has really prohibited me from doing so.

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