With the pandemic delaying the baseball season and a lot of the minor league staff sitting at home, it seems that private signings really took off this year. There have been a lot of them listed at SCN, and a ton still upcoming. There have been a good number of Astros on the list to boot, including several that I was missing from the Astro-graphs project. I feel like the lack of card shows and appearances has played into this availability a bit as well. Some of the resourceful signing organizers have managed to set up bulk mail-in signings with certain players as well, and I’ve reaped the rewards of a few of those. In fact, I’ve still got several more out, and have cards of three more guys sitting on my desk waiting to be sent off to signings. I need to play a lot of catchup around here, so let’s look at what’s come in via signings so far in 2020.
First up – it’s some ’90s Astros! These are all short-term ‘Stros and it feels really good to put them in the binder. Barfield was the first base coach in 1995 under Terry Collins. I figured I’d wind up with a side sig in blue, but he surprised me with the silver Sharpie choice, which looks great. The 1996 Fleer of Derrick May is actually an upgrade for the collection. I picked up a few autographs from May during his playing days, but those were all Cubbies, so I’ve finally got an Astro card of him in the binder. The last of the new ’90s Astros is J.R. Phillips, who was signed by Houston prior to the 1997 season and managed to get into 49 games with the club across ’97 and ’98 while serving in a pinch hitting role and occasionally spelling Bagwell at first. The club actually brought him back two more times, acquiring him midyear in 2000 and 2005, but he spent the entirety of those stints in the minors.
Outside of the ’90s I have added three more Astro-graphs through signings this year – so far. Jeff Leonard actually started his big league career with the Dodgers, getting into 11 games in 1977, and was the PTBNL in the trade that saw Houston send Joe Ferguson to LA. Hac Man got into 8 games in September 1978, and then put together a sparkling rookie year in 1979, hitting .290/.360/.350 with 5 triples and 23 stolen bases across 134 games. Rick Sutcliffe was the consensus NL ROY, but Leonard’s performance was enough to get him runner-up honors. I had to get the 1981 Fleer signed, of course. LaCoss spent ’82-’84 with Houston, going 18-18 with 4 saves in 118 games (43 starts, 385 innings pitched). Without an ’81 Fleer to get inked, I turned to another of my favorite ’80s sets, 1983 Topps. Finally, I was able to add Carlos Peña to the binder as well. The All-Star first baseman was signed prior to the 2013 season. Those were the dark ages, and the hope from the team was that he’d provide enough value to be flipped at the deadline. The hope for Carlos was to extend his career after hitting just .211 from 2009-2012 (albeit with a .342 OBP, .439 SLG, 114 HRs and a 113 OPS in that span). He hit just .209 in his 85 games with the club and with no suitors was released at the deadline. His other Astros card is his 2013 Topps, where he’s depicted about to flip the ball to a pitcher covering first. This Heritage issue just felt like a nicer option.
It hasn’t been all Astros this year, either! I got a few other ’81 Fleer cards inked up and in the binder – and if I can find any time to write some letters, I’ll probably send quite a few out in TTM requests as well. These were too good to pass up, however. Madlock was just $10 through a signing he announced on his social media. Norris was just $10 or $12 and being conducted by the same dealer who put together the Leonard signing, so I was able to send them in together. Picking up another of the Black Aces at that price and getting another ’81 Fleer was just too good to pass up. Finally, I think the Gorman Thomas signing was just $8, and that deal was good enough for me to get yet another ’81 Fleer signed. These all turned out great! I’m up over 60 of these now (a few are in the Astro-graphs binder), and it looks really nice seeing them all together.
Let’s talk Mookie! No, not Betts, I mean Mooooooooooooooooookie! This was another cheap signing ($15 I think) and was another combined shipping endeavor, as it was orchestrated by the same dealer who put together the Jesse Barfield signing. This one ticks off a few boxes as well: 1983 Topps, star player, and baseball family (uncle *and* stepfather of former Astro Preston Wilson). Again, just too good not to pass up.
But the biggest addition to the autograph collection this summer? Well that’d be this beauty that arrived just yesterday. When I saw this signing posted I was elated, then skeptical, then delightedly relieved when it was proven to be on the level. So how big was this addition?
It was none other than The Big Hurt! Honestly, I was gobsmacked – the pricing really threw me on this one. If I wanted to get Jeff Bagwell at a signing these days, he’s at least a $69 fee, possibly more. While he was a better overall player than Frank, Thomas is the one with the bigger celebrity and name recognition, and if he was coming to sign at a show I’d easily anticipate an $89-$99 fee or even higher. But this signing was just $30! I couldn’t pass that up, and while I wish I could have sent a few more cards in (there are sooooo many good Frank Thomas cards), I was absolutely floored that I could get his rookie signed for such a small cost. Outside of some old-timers who are very gracious with their low signing fees and a few of the new guys, it’s hard to find a quality HOF auto at such a price. It’s safe to say I’m pretty happy with it.
Alright, like I mentioned above, there is a critical mass of posting that ought to be done around here. You just might start seeing a flurry of activity while I try and knock some drafts out. I have to do something to let this brain settle down after long days of job applications, interviews, and Salesforce Trailhead, after all. Oh, and speaking of which – I just interviewed with two different companies, both of whom I’d be happy to work for, so pray to the lord (light or dark) of your choosing. I’m ready for this free agency to end.