TTM Report: February 2017

Still trying to knock out the year’s TTM autograph returns. January was a loaded month; February was nearly as full as well. I netted a HOFer in here too (even though I’ve already shown that one off on the blog). Alright, no need to keep you waiting like ol’ Larry Bowa here. He’s ready to go take BP, so let’s hop to it.

Larry Bowa: 5/5, 11 days.

February started off with a handful of Larry Bowa autographs, including this delightful 1973 Topps. I love this set, and I’ve got a nice little chunk of around 50-70 already. I think come 2018 I’m going to re-evaluate the sets I’m chasing and be a little more clear about that. Whatever, this is about Bowa, not ’73 Topps.

I’ve got a full ’81 Fleer Set and a huge brick of ’81 Topps – enought that if I were just in set completion mode, I would’ve chased it, but I’m trying to pare down a bit. I’m mainly looking for stuff from 1976 and earlier. These are both great cards augmented by Larry’s fine signature. I’m as happy as he is depicted on that ’81 Topps.

I rounded this one out with an ’84 Topps and the ’13 Hometown Heroes. See what I mean about hands getting cut off in this set? It’s kind of funny seeing the ol’ double headgear here. Bowa was a fine shortstop: a five-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glover who picked up a World Series championship with the 1980 Phillies. He also won Manager of the Year with Philly in 2001, which checks a box off my Award Winners list.

Phil Garner: 4/4, 11 days.

Ol’ Scrap Iron here was a mainstay of the early ’80s Astros, and has three World Series championships to his name – two in his first two years with Oakland in ’73 and ’74, one with the Stargell-led Pirates in ’79. With Houston, he helped lead the ’86 squad to the NLCS, where they lost to the Mets in a heartbreaker. He also had a fine tenure as manager, taking the team to the ’04 NLCS and the ’05 World Series, also heartbreakers for this Astros fan. I’m a big fan of that ’86 Fleer set, and have several of the Astros cards signed now.

More ’81 Fleer love, and more Swell Baseball Greats. You’ve gotta love those pillbox Pirates hats, especially with the Stargell’s Stars! I have to admit, I was a little surprised to see Garner in the Baseball Greats checklist when I first came across this card.

Shane Reynolds: 3/3, 57 days.

Shane was the workhorse and the ace of the Astros staff during the 90s, taking the ball on Opening Day five times, racking up 103 wins in an Astros uniform, and finishing among the top ten in strikeouts among NL pitchers 5 times. His lone All-Star appearance came in 2000.

I loved watching Shane pitch. He was the leader of the staff throughout my formative years of Astros fandom. So when I saw a reported success for him, I dug up a few cards and dashed them off in the mail.

Check out that silly fuzzy blonde ‘stache on that ’93 Donruss. Shane, what were you thinking?

I thought these two would look pretty great with some ink as well. I’m pretty happy with the way they turned out. Shane’s signature has become a bit more linear than it was in his playing days, when the S and R and y were big loopy things.

Ron Kittle: 4/4, 15 days.

I’ve gotta admit – nothing about the Ron Kittle cards I had in my childhood collection ever compelled me to like or enjoy the guy. It was probably the giant glasses – I thought they looked silly (Chris Sabo was on my “meh” list as well). But when doing some research about who to send to, I was shocked to find out that Kittle won the 1983 AL Rookie of the Year, when he blasted 35 homers, 19 doubles, 3 triples, and 100 RBI.

Kittle also put up a .254/.314/.504 slash line – and led the AL with 150 strikeouts. So, there’s that. But hey, I’ve got another ROY autograph in my books!

John Tamargo: 5/3, 19 days.

I highlighted this Nabisco Albertson’s set in my January recap, but this is one of my favorite cards from it. It’s John Tamargo’s only Astros card from his four-year run as the Astros bullpen coach (1999-2002). How often do you get a card of a coach throwing BP?

Tamargo had an unspectacular career, spending five seasons as a backup catcher with the Cardinals, Giants, and Expos, and working in just 135 games. However, the evidence of Tamargo’s baseball knowledge must have been apparent, as he was a minor-league manager from 1982 (just after retiring) up through 1998, before he joined the Astros major league staff.

You’ve gotta love the old Expos unis. More ’81 set love here as well. John signed a pair of index cards as well.

Dick Groat: 4/4, 16 days.

I’ve got a couple Dick Groat autographs in my collection already, but when I started tackling the Swell and Legends sets, it was time to add a few more. I was a little surprised to see he was in most of these, although I’m not sure why it seemed strange – there’s a lot of overlap among these sets.

These two did seem strange. Groat came up with the Pirates originally, and he’s always a Pirate in my mind. He moved on to St. Louis in 1963, winning a championship with them in 1964, before wrapping his career with some time in Philadelphia and San Francisco. Groat was the 1960 NL MVP, winning the batting title that year as well, and of course a ring with the 1960 Pirates.

Don Baylor: 2/3, 311 days.

This one’s a bit sad in retrospect. We lost Don Baylor all too early.

The powerful slugger commanded ownership of the plate, which led to him racking up a then-record 267 times (since broken by Craig Biggio). He was named AL MVP in 1979, Manager of the Year in 2005, and picked up a World Series championship in 1987 with the Twins.

Don had been kind enough to sign for me twice previously, and when I set out on my 1981 Fleer semi-chase, he was one of the first ones I thought to write.

In fact, I’d all but given up on this returning. I’d gotten a nice success with Guidry via Yankees ST in 2016, so I turned around and sent it off to Baylor figuring it would come back in a couple months. Almost 11 months later, it made its way back to my mailbox. I love it when you can complete a multiplayer card, and this one has a nice pair of names on it. RIP Don, and thanks for your kindness.

Jeff Reardon: 5/5, 19 days.

February landed a five-spot of Jeff Reardon autographs in my mailbox too! These 1981 offerings from Fleer and Topps are also Jeff’s rookie cards, following his 1980 campaign when he finished 6th in the NL ROY voting.

Reardon was a fantastic relief pitcher who bounced around quite a bit for someone so accomplished. He had four All-Star seasons, punctuated by a NL Reliever of the Year award in 1985 and a World Series championship with the Twins in 1987. He briefly held the saves record, when he broke Rollie Fingers record of 341 saves in 1992, only to have it topped by Lee Smith in 1993. Reardon finished his career with 367 saves, good for 9th on the all-time list.

Of course, we savvy baseball fans know that the save is a silly stat, and far from the best measure of a relief pitcher’s abilities or worth. At his peak he was a strikeout machine, finishing his career with a 7.0 K/9 rate, and just 358 walks in 1132.1 innings pitched.

This is one of those oversized Donruss Action All-Stars from 1986. They came a few to a pack along with a smaller pop-up card.

Aw, look at how happy he looks on that ’86 Fleer Limited Edition! That’s such a fine looking set, and that stellar Montreal uni and the yellow seats of the bowl just add to its glory. I had to send that one. I also wanted to get one of Jeff’s Twins cards signed, given his championship, and ’88 Score is a fine set.

Bill Virdon: 6/6, 19 days.

Ooo-wee! Now Bill Virdon’s specs are much classier than ol’ Ron Kittle’s. Virdon was at the helm of the Astros throughout the late 70s and early 80s, leading some fine ballclubs – including an excellent 1980 team. In fact, he still owns the best record in club history at 544-522, a .510 winning percentage. Again, ’81 Fleer just looks like it was meant to be signed.

Virdon had quite a career as a player as well, which landed him in several of the Legends/Greats sets. He was a member of the ’60 Pirates championship squad, adding a requested inscription to the Pacific Legends card, and looks mighty fine on that 1989 Swell Baseball Greats.

The ’91 Swell Greats card leaves something to be desired, however. I’d hoped that he might add a ROY inscription – he snagged the 1954 NL ROY award with the Cardinals, but he left that off. Perhaps if I had sent a Cardinals card. I’ve since tracked one down (from the 1994 Archives “1954” set), so maybe I’ll try one more time. The Expos card has so much going for it – glorious uniform, 1983 Topps, and Bill with his steely jaw looks like a guy you’d lay everything out for. I’d play for that skipper anyday.

Brooks Robinson: 2/1, 6 days.

Yes – these cards have already made an appearance here at RTA. Simply put, I was stunned when these came back, particularly that they came back so quickly. Brooks has really been generous with his signing the past year or so, I’ve seen plenty of returns from him posted in the TTM groups. I only sent the 2015 Stadium Club, along with a donation, and he included the 2011 Heritage Player Sample. That was the most shocking part. He also answered a couple of my questions! Here’s the original post.

Ron Cook: 1/1, 248 days.

The funny thing about this request is that I had sent this request out some 8 months earlier, so around June of 2016. Two months later, I’ve got no return and they’ve announced that Cook was going to be at the Astros’ 2016 Legends Weekend as part of the autograph line. So now I have two copies of this card signed.

Cook was a lefty who was originally signed as an outfielder by the Yankees in 1966. In 1968, he made the conversion to pitcher, and he made appearances with the Astros 1970 and 1971 squads. Cook spent two more years in the Astros system before hanging up his spikes.

Ken MacKenzie: 3/2, 8 days.

MacKenzie was another short-term lefty pitcher for the Astros, wrapping up his six year career by spending 1965 with the club. He was also an original member of the Mets, leading the pitching staff with a 5-4 record – the only pitcher on that sad club to emerge with a winning record. He attended college at Yale, graduating in 1956 and lettering in baseball and hockey. His degree prompted Casey Stengel to once remark, “He’s a splendid young fella with a great education from Yale University. His signing with us makes him the lowest paid member of the class of Yale ’56.” Ken also signed an index card for me.

Lee Thomas: 5/2, 10 days.

Lee’s 1961 campaign saw him hit .285/.353/.491 in 132 games, with 11 doubles, 5 triples, and 24 dingers. For that, Topps rewarded him with the ol’ Rookie Cup, and the baseball writer’s had him tied for third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting (behind Don Schwall and Dick Howser). The following year he followed it up with another fine showing, hitting .290/.355/.461, with 21 doubles, 2 triples, 26 homers, and 104 RBI, and garnered an All-Star selection.

Thomas wrapped up his career by spending the 1968 season in Houston, where he worked primarily as a corner outfielder in 90 games. His production had fallen way off, with an anemic .194 batting average and a dreadful 46 OPS+. He would spend 1969 in Japan with the Nankai Hawks, where his numbers were much better, earning him a 1970 season with the Cardinals’ AAA club. That would be it for Lee, however. I’d offered up one of the customs for him to keep, but Lee signed both, along with a pair of index cards.

Jose Vizcaino: 3/3, 28 days.

*Cues up ESPN 30-for-30 music*

What if I told you that Dominican baseball player and well-traveled major league infielder Jose Vizcaino actually served his longest tenure with the Houston Astros? Would you believe me? Would you scoff at the sheer incredulous nature of my statement? Would you even care?

I mean, it’s true. Vizcaino did spend five years in a Houston uniform, more time than he spent with any other club, including his two stints in LA. The longtime backup infielder hit a respectable .270 for his 18-year career during which he averaged about 100 games per season. There was no real power to go behind that, but he was regarded as a good defender. Jose capped off the first game of the 2000 World Series with a 12th-inning game-winning single. In Game 2 of the 2005 World Series, it looked like Vizcaino might repeat his postseason glory when he ripped a two-out single in the ninth to tie up the game. However, freaking Scott Podsednik homered in the bottom of the ninth to win it for the White Sox.

Look at how joyful Jose is on that 1990 Upper Deck! I just had to send that one. I think the non-glossy ’96 and ’97 Fleer sets are great for autos as well.

Don Mattingly: 1/1, 374 days. Mark McGwire: 1/1, 374 days.

I showed these two off on the blog when they originally came in – after all, how often do you get two big names in on the same day, that you sent out on the same day just over a year prior? I was floored.

Willie Blair: 4/4, 264 days.

Blair came over from Cleveland, along with Eddie Taubensee, in one of the most lamented trades of my Astros fandom. Imagine this: you get a middling pitching prospect who just had a struggling season, and a mediocre catching prospect, and you send away a utility man throw-in and oh yeah, just one of the top outfield prospects in all of baseball who turns into a stolen base machine and churns out a borderline case for Hall of Fame consideration. Ugh, I wish we had kept Kenny Lofton.

Blair strung together a 12 year major league career which saw him bounce around a lot – both from team to team and bullpen to rotation. He was lifted from the Astros by the Rockies in the 1993 Expansion Draft. He may not have had a brilliant career, but it’s always nice to add another Astro autograph to the collection.

Frank Carpin: 4/2, 19 days.

Frank Carpin was a lefty who toiled in the minors for five seasons before being converted to a reliever and getting a shot in the Pirates bullpen in 1965. He put up a fine season, appearing in 39 games, finishing 13 of them, and accumulating a 3-1 record and 3 saves to go with his 3.18 ERA. The Astros picked him up in the 1965 Rule V draft (don’t ask me how that worked, given his season in the majors), and he made it into 10 games at the major league level. His AAA numbers looked great again, but at the majors his ERA tanked as he gave up 7 runs (5 earned) in just six innings. Frank mentioned in his response to my letter that he didn’t really enjoy Houston all that much, and greatly preferred Pittsburgh. With those numbers, I can understand why. He also didn’t like the ‘Dome, stating that it felt artificial and baseball was a game that was meant to be played outdoors. He signed both of the customs I sent, along with two index cards.

That’s a total of 18 returns for February – ten Astros (6 new ones), a HOFer who happens to be the greatest third baseman of all time, four MVPs – Mattingly, Groat, Robinson, and Baylor, two ROYs, two Manager of the Year winners, and a Reliever of the Year. Quite the month!

Just four more months to catch up on – oh, and the non-baseball returns for the year as well. So I’ve still got five posts coming.

 – Marc

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