Well, I’ve put this one off long enough, for the second time – but that’s because it was quite a month! By and large, 2020 was not too much fun, for pretty much anyone – I think we can agree on that. My mailbox was at least pretty fun in December, though. I had a big month to close out the year: Astros, prospects, HOFers, family men, lots of different returns came!
Jack Mayfield: 2/2, 87 days
My first return was a very pleasant end-of-year surprise from Super Jack Mayfield – such nicknamed for his wild defensive plays. Super Jack signed a 2018 Fresno Grizzlies team card and his 2019 Starchives card, keeping the spare copy I sent. I was sad to see him get traded last year. I think he’s got Tony Kemp potential – a talented infielder who was crowded out in Houston and needs a spot where he’ll get regular ABs so the bat will come around. The glove work is definitely already there.
Skip Jutze: 2/2, 14 days
The second return of the month was the second new Astro-graph! Skip hadn’t been signing for a while, then apparently picked back up. His ‘74T is just too cool – it’s definitely the card that made the binder, despite the little smudge on the signature. I’m particularly fond of his Eye Black Mafia entry from Gummy Arts – I may have to try sending one of those if I write him again.
Rob Murphy: 2/2
Alright, “return” number three was from a private signing, but it did bring in my third new Astro of the month! This signing was cheap enough that I couldn’t pass up sending that phenomenal 1990 Upper Deck card with the ancient laptop on it. I finally get to cross Rob’s name out on the Astro-graph list after several failed attempts. That always feels good.
Tom Dukes: 1/1, 13 days
Okay, get this: four returns so far, right? All four were new Astro-graph entries! I’d been sitting on this spare copy of this Rookie Stars card from 1968 Topps for a while, in hopes that I might be able to find a photo of Dukes with Houston that was suitable for a custom. Eventually I decided that I’d rather not miss the boat, and to just go ahead and get this done. Maybe I’ll finally break down and photoshop his 1969 card (which is probably a minor league shot from the same session as this image) into an Astros hat and make a custom, though that’s certainly my less preferred route.
Rob Blomberg: 1/1 11 days
Okay, we’re up to return number five for December 2020, and this is the first one that is not even an Astro, much less a new Astro autograph. I’d had Ron in my “to write” pile for years by the time I finally got this one out the door along with his $5 fee. It felt like a nice pickup – a former #1 overall draft pick and the first DH in baseball, and I rather enjoy these Million Dollar Moments cards. I have a few more signed and am also building this set. I’m not building a signed set (that’s impossible), but rather I’m getting what I can signed and also putting a full 50 card set together. This design might also make for an interesting starting point for a custom.
Derek Bell: 1/1
We’re back to the Astros with return number six. This one was also a private signing – it was just the right price to nab Operation Shutdown, and the opportunity to add another signed 1998 Stadium Club, a set I really love, was just too nice to pass up. It’s not a new Astros autograph, though – I have a few cards Derek signed for me in person at the ‘Dome when I was a kid. At one point I was a few cards away from having a full 1998 Stadium Club set, before I decided to pare down my set building a tad – that makes it an easy TTM target for the guys who do sign.
Rick Rhoden: 1/1
Rhoden was the third and final private signing to come back during December 2020. I’d missed getting him to sign this in person at a little local show out in Sugar Land a few years back – I’d rushed out the door and left it on my desk. “No worries,” I thought, “surely one of the dealers here will have brought some.” Well, none of the 6 dealers had even bothered to pull his cards, much less his handful of junk wax appearances with Houston. I’d had him sign a Pirates card for me at the time, and asked if I could possibly write him to make up for my mistake. He’d said yes, and while the address seems to be good, it’s come back unsigned a couple times. It felt good to finally make this one right.
Jim Palmer: 2/2, 8 days
Alright, a bonafide Hall of Fame pitcher! I’ve had Palmer’s autograph for a while, thanks to picking up one of the Nabisco cards at a show fairly early on in my return to collecting. While it’s not a new HOFer in the collection, it is certainly a nice upgrade, though, with a lovely action shot on that Stadium Club card, and of course an 81 Fleer! Along with the cards, I had included Jim’s signing fee, which I think was $10 per card. I may send one more envelope his way – I’ve got a ’76 that I’m itching to send him. We’ll see if I actually get it out the door.
Stan Williams: 1/1, 8 days
Stan is a TTM Legend, or rather was. He has passed since I wrote him, and left us just shy of a year ago. Along with this beautiful signature, Stan was kind enough to answer a few questions. He must have gotten frustrated, however, because by the time he flipped the page over, he replied that I asked too many questions! For the record, I think I may have asked 6* questions. He still took the time to answer them, though!
*My standard questions are things like: favorite memories, teammates, biggest influences, what they enjoy most about baseball, and the strangest thing they’ve seen in baseball.
Whitey Herzog: 2/2, 10 days
If you haven’t been keeping track, this is return number ten from the month, and unlike Jim Palmer, this one is a new Hall of Famer for the collection! I’d written Whitey once before, losing a 1963 Topps card in a failed prior TTM request some years back. I finally dug out some scratch to pay his $5 per card fee and remedied this one. I rather like his signature, the H on the ’83 is really nice and I enjoy how the tails of his z and g form a stylized H as well.
Luis Tiant: 2/2, 10 days
Tiant was an excellent pitcher, with a borderline Hall of Fame case, and was a Black Ace who was never included in the club, to his chagrin. Mudcat Grant was the gatekeeper of the club of black pitchers who had won 20 games in a season, and decided that Tiant did not qualify as he was Cuban. That’s unfortunate, and while the afrolatino line is still blurry in baseball aspects, I think it’s fair to say he ought to be a member. I landed a nice pair of 81s when I noticed he was signing, with his Fleer and Topps cards. I wish I had a spare Red Sox card to send, it would have been a little more fitting, but I enjoy both of these, particularly because the Topps* card has a strong, well-framed photo.
Certainly the weaker of the two sets in question.
Steve Swisher: 2/2, 10 days
This Baseball Dad ink makes for a dozen returns in December 2020, and we’re still not done yet! I do love my Bloodlines project – and I’m working up a standalone page for it – and it’s always fun to pick up minor league autographs. I love me some 83 Topps as well, and Steve’s eye black is great. I wonder how many people remember him as a player versus how many remember him as a coach. Either way, it’s safe to say more persons are likely to remember his son, Nick.
Manny Hernandez: 2/2, 37 days
One fun aspect of using sites like Sportscollectors.net or Sports Card Forum for this endeavor is that sometimes you’ll notice a guy you’ve needed for a while just starts signing out of the blue. That’s what happened with short-term ‘Stro Manny Hernandez, and it was awesome! The Dominican righty saw action in 15 Astros games during 1986 through 1987, and made one more major league appearance – with the Mets in 1989. He was one of the obscure 80s players whom I still hadn’t tracked down, but this dual return made for the sixth new Astro-graph addition in the month.
Anthony Volpe: 2/2, 14 days.
Along with noticing when players you’ve been missing for a while start signing, another bonus of those sites is that you’ll come across a prospect who answers his mail. That’s how I landed two cards from this Yankees prospect. Volpe had committed to play at Vanderbilt when the Yankees made him their first-round pick in 2019 and ended up jumping straight to pro ball. He wrapped up last season in High A, where the athletic shortstop hit .286 across 55 games, with 17 doubles, and 15 homers among his 61 hits and 27 walks. He seems pretty good! That’s a beautiful signature as well. Eat your heart out, AJ!
Phew! That was a marathon! Congratulations if you read all the way through those fourteen returns from the month – a month which happened over a year ago. There were six new Astro-graphs, a couple upgrades, a hot prospect, a great pitcher with a borderline HOF case, two actual HOFers, and a little taste of what filling the hopper will do at the end of the month there. I need to get back to regularly writing requests!