TTM Report: January 2017

Alright, I swore to myself that I’d get this thing caught up before the end of the month, and I’m gonna do my best. So here’s the January TTM Report. Phew! Just compiling the list of all the returns from January made me tired. I guess I sent out a lot of offseason mail last year, because there was a bunch of ink in the mailbox at the beginning of the year. How’s about a look at the haul?

Dave Nicholson: 4/3, 12 days.

January started off with a nice return from short-term ‘Stro Dave Nicholson. The 1966 is a high number that I thought I might not be able to get my hands on, so when I found the killer photo of him I just had to make a custom. Turns out, I tracked down a nice copy of the ’66 for not too much, so I sent that along as well.

The ’67 came from a Sportlots order – it was supposed to be a ’66. Maybe I ordered the wrong card, maybe the seller just had it listed wrong, I don’t remember. I’d offered the second custom for Dave to keep, as I usually do, but he signed it anyway. Thanks Dave!

Dusty Baker: 5/3, 325 days. (2IC)

Man, Dusty just got the raw deal in Washington. I understand frustration with not moving beyond the first round of the playoffs, but c’mon. He deserves far better than the way he was treated there. I think Dusty still gets a bad rap for the way he used to utilize pitchers, but he’s clearly moved beyond that and has a tremendous amount of baseball knowledge to give, and he wants to continue to give it. He was clearly an improvement over Matt Williams in Washington. I’m just worried that now every team will continue to interview him as the “token minority candidate” and that he won’t ever get another fair shake.

I mailed three cards to Dusty via Nationals spring training at the beginning of 2016, and I’d pretty much presumed them gone. It was pretty swell to see them show back up in the mailbox. Yes, this ’73 is that gloriously miscut. But what a card! That’s young Dusty’s third-year card, and he looks like he’s ready to do some absolute damage with that bat.

I also sent along Dusty’s 1981 and 1984 Topps as well, and I’m really happy with the way things turned out. Dusty’s got a great sig, and the only thing that I regret is not sending along the 1981 Fleer for the set I’m sort of working on.

Bobby Richardson: 2/2, 17 days.

Damn, January started off strong! At one point around a year ago I decided I might try and knock out as many guys from the Pacific Legends and Swell Greats sets – those that are still around, that is. I knew Bobby Richardson was a great signer, with a sig that still looks fantastic. I’d added the ’58 to a Sportlots order at some point in order to send out. These came back reaaaaaal nice. Richardson was a fine ballplayer – five Gold Gloves at second base, seven All-Star selections, and even an MVP runner-up finish in 1962. However, his biggest distinction might be that he somehow swiped the 1960 World Series MVP award despite playing for a losing Yankees squad (good riddance), while putting up a .367/.387/.667 slash line. Richardson went 11-for-30 with 2 double, 2 triples, and a homer, for a 1.054 OPS and 12 RBI. In the end, the good guys won the day, though.

Doug Fister: 2/2, 112 days.

Doug Fister had a tough go of it here in Houston. He definitely had some bright spots, but when it came time to make a decision at the end of 2016, it was pretty clear that there wasn’t room in the Astros rotation for him. Dougie Fresh just couldn’t capture the magic of his 2013-2014 seasons, putting up a 12-13 record, 4.64 ERA and 4.75 FIP while allowing a .272 average, for a grand total of 0 WAR. That’s right, he was perfectly replaceable – and the Astros did just that. I’d had high hopes that he could regain his 2014 form, but it just didn’t work out. I’m really happy with the two cards he signed, though – I’m always happy to check off another guy from the all-time roster.

Marty Cordova: 4/4, 70 days.

I’d seen some posted successes from Cordova, and then thought to myself, hey, he was the 1995 AL ROY and I’ve got some nice cards of him! So the next time I was digging for cards to trade (most of which are still stored at my folks’ place), I made sure to pull out some rad cards of Marty. I love the ’93 Classic Best in all its minor league glory, even with its cock-eyed photo. The ’95 E-Motion set is one of my absolute favorites from the 1990s. I remember being a young card shopper and diligently saving up to buy some precious packs of this higher dollar product.

The ’95 UD Diamond Debuts is probably one of the goofier baserunning cards that I’ve seen, but the 1996 Upper Deck – complete with the ROY shield – makes up for it with an excellent shot. I love these odd perspectives – when they’re done right, they can turn out something amazing.

Michael Cuddyer: 1/1, 36 days.

This was another super cool return – Michael Cuddyer was hot stuff for a while, and when I saw that he was returning mail in his retirement, I knew I wanted to find something cool to send off to him. I checked out my Cuddyer cards and turned out with this ’98 Stadium Club RC, with it’s cool little Draft Picks logo.

Cuddyer actually has a really nice signature for a modern player – really fine and legible. It reminds me of the old-timers that actually had to take handwriting classes. He seems to be more than happy to field requests, though it seems to be a strict one-per limit.

Don Newcombe: 1/1, 9 days.

I had scouted this card for a while, looking at the last two shops (sadly now just one shop) in town and a few shows, before I broke down and bought this copy online. I mean, how can you not like this glorious 1954 Bowman? I think as far as Newk’s cards go, it’s second only to his 1957 Topps. That one was proving even harder to track down, though.

Newcombe had an outstanding career, winning the Rookie of the Year award in 1949, making four All-Star games, and garnering MVP votes in five seasons – including a top finish in 1956, when he also won the Cy Young award. He also missed 1952-53 due to military service, which would have been his age 26-27 seasons. It’s certainly tempting to think what might have been had he not had to serve, given how well his career got started. Newk signs for a $20 fee, which was well worth it – his sig looks great, and I got to check off three spots on my Award Winners list.

Roberto Petagine: 2/2, 214 days.

Ah, Roberto Petagine. He made an extremely brief pair of showings with Houston in 1994, working into 8 games with 7 pinch-hit appearances and a couple innings of work at first base. He was flipped to San Diego in the massive 12-player deal that I will probably always consider a crushing blow to a big part of my childhood, when we sent away Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley, but netted good ol’ Derek “Operation Shutdown” Bell. Petagine bounced from the Padres to the Reds, making brief appearances at the major league level with both teams, before jumping across the Pacific and becoming quite the star in Japan from 1999 to 2004.

Steve Busby: 3/3, 7 days.

I’d decided at some point in the 2016-17 offseason to casually have a go at the 1981 Fleer set. I’d come into a complete set via  friend who was getting rid of his childhood collection, and I’ve always loved the look of it. It’s a delightful set, riddled with flaws, but most of the cards look fantastic when signed.

Steve Busby was one of the guys on the checklist that I’d noticed was a good signer, and I dug up another pair of his cards in my vintage boxes – eh, calling 1980 vintage might be a stretch.

Steve actually finished third in the AL ROY voting in 1973, and made a pair of All-Star teams in the two subsequent years. Busby authored two No-Nos in that span, before he was beset with arm troubles. That 1981 Fleer is actually a sunset card – Busby hung up his spikes after the 1980 season.

Bill Campbell: 3/3, 7 days.

Campbell was another of the semi-stars I’d pulled out from the ’81 Fleer set. I’d seen plenty of successes with quick turnarounds from the former Boston pitcher. “Soup” made an All-Star team in 1977 and pitched well enough to garner both Cy Young and MVP votes in the 1976-77 seasons. Between those two seasons alone he appeared in 147 games, finishing 128 of them, and compiling a 30-14 record with 51 saves.

Also, let’s talk about that pose – that’s clearly some fielding practice, right? There’s no way this picture was taken during game action.

Bill also signed the 1979 and 1981 Topps cards I’d sent along. I’m always somewhat amused when guys decide to sign cards vertically.

Hal Lanier: 3/3, 12 days.

You wanna talk weird card photos? I submit to you this 1974 Topps Hal Lanier. Pictured on a knee in the on-deck circle, swinging a bat one-handed – and grinning? I can’t even tell. Who decided this was a good baseball card photo?

At any rate – Lanier was an all-glove, barely any bat middle infielder. He hit .274 for the Giants in his rookie season in 1964, and not much else. It would be the only time he hit over .235, and the only year his slugging percentage (.347) would crack the .300 mark. The ’74 Topps is his sunset card, as his final appearance was in 1973 with the Yankees.

Lanier would garner other cards, however, once he became a manager. After several years as a coach with the Cardinals, Lanier was named manager of the Astros, where he led the team from 1986-88. His first season was a huge success – the Astros put up a 96-66 record and won their first division title since 1980, which netted Lanier a Manager of the Year award. A tense relationship with the front office actually led to Astros GM Dick Wagner leaving the team in 1987, and Lanier was dismissed at the end of the 1988 season. For the past decade, he’s been managing in independent baseball. I had written to Hal via the Ottawa Champions of the Can-Am League without luck, so this success via his home was very nice.

Ron Cey: 2/2, 8 days.

Ah, the Penguin! I can hear Night Owl nodding in approval. How can you not love some Ron Cey ink, with his uniform number in the R and that trademark tail? Cey is a generous signer, but sending anything more than two cards is pointless. I picked out a pair I really enjoyed – the 1983 Topps and the 2013 Hometown Heroes – which even with its logo-less, often poorly cropped (seriously, go through this set again and look at all the missing hands) photos is still a great set. I’d be tempted to lift this design and re-work it just a bit for some customs. These turned out great. I think I’m going to write Cey again soon – the only question is what other card should I include along with the ’81 Fleer?

Mike Cubbage: 4/4, 8 days.

Cubby was a member of Larry Dierker’s coaching staff while he was at the helm of the ‘Stros, spending 4 years as the third base coach. In his final year, he swapped spots with Matt Galante and took over as bench coach. I remember getting a couple sigs from him as a kid – probably on balls I brought to the games, maybe even on the 1998 Mother’s Cookies coaches card. The neat thing about the 1999 Nabisco Albertson’s set, as weird as it is (no bottom border? floating baseballs?), is that each of the coaches got his own card in the set. This gave solo Astros cards to a few guys that never had one previously (see also: John Tamargo). My friend Craig gave each of us the set as part of the groomsmen gifts when we were in his wedding. The set goes for $20 whenever I find it, and someday I’ll plunk down for an extra copy, but I finally decided to just go ahead and send out a few of them. You’ve gotta love that ’81 Fleer as well.

I’d come across copies of Mike’s ’80 and ’81 Topps, so I sent those along as well. Thanks Mike!

Jose Tartabull: 3/1, 8 days.

Before you ask, yes this is Danny Tartabull’s father. The elder Tartabull came over from Cuba and played in the majors from 1962-1970 for the Athletics and Red Sox. He was a fleet-footed outfielder known as a threat on the basepaths. Red Sox fans still hold a special place for him thanks to a throw that gunned down the White Sox’ Ken Berry in a late August game during the 1967 pennant chase. The throw ended the game, and the Red Sox wound up winning the pennant by a single game that season.

Jose has a fantastic signature, and also signed a pair of index cards that I’d included for protection. On the subject of sets that just look like they were meant to be signed, let’s not forget 1964 Topps. That is a hell of a set. This one just looks incredible.

Jed Lowrie: 2/4, 328 days.

Ah, good ol’ Double Jed-ardy. For a while I thought he was just going to play every other season in Houston and Oakland. I’d sent a pair of Astros cards along with these after seeing some solid returns from Jed. Unfortunately, he didn’t sign either of them, keeping one. I filed the ’09 Upper Deck into the Astrographs binder for now, but I need to try to write him again and be pickier with my card selection this time, I suppose. 

Jack Billingham: 1/1, 16 days.

Jack had been on my list for a while. I’d had a spare 1970 Topps sitting in my “to send” pile for some time, and in January I finally broke down and sent a card to Jack with his requisite $5 fee. In my waiting period, however, I managed to come into possession of a copy his 1971 Topps card – much better than the hatless headshot on the ’70. This one came out nicely.

Bob Friend: 3/3, 13 days.

Bob Friend was the capstone of the Pirates’ rotation for a decade, arguably a very good pitcher whose record suffered from playing on some anemic Pirates teams during the ’50s. Pittsburgh picked up a couple guys named Clemente and Mazeroski in the middle of the 50s though, and the Pirates’ fortunes began to turn around. Friend was finally rewarded for the slog of his early years with a glorious championship in 1960, though he was shellacked during the Series, turning in a 13.50 ERA in his three appearances.

This is the second time I’ve written to Bob, and the third time I’ve gotten a batch of signatures from him. He’s a wonderful signer, and I even got to meet him as a kid. I don’t remember the year, but we were in Pittsburgh visiting my grandparents and it just so happened to coincide with a ’60 Pirates reunion. Other old-timers that were present included Vern Law, Dick Schofield, Dick Stuart, Bob Skinner, and Roy Face. That was a fun time.

As I mentioned earlier, I’d pulled out the old Pacific Legends and Swell cards to try my hand at getting some more signatures on them. The re-use of photos throughout these sets is prominent, even across brands, so I’m curious as to who was doing the photo selection and what their resources looked like. These came out pretty swell indeed.

C.C. Sabathia: 1/1, 346 days.

This one threw me for a complete loop. I’d taken a flyer and sent it out to Yankees 2016 Spring Training when they announced that Sabathia had finished up rehab and would be reporting to camp. If you recall, he had a dreadful 2015, and shocked the baseball world when he announced with around 40 games left in the season that he was entering rehab for a battle with alcoholism.

That’s something that is close to my heart – I am fortunate to not have to battle it personally, but it was something that several members of both mine and my wife’s families have dealt with. I wrote C.C. a nice letter wishing him well, and told him how proud I was – not only of his accomplishments, but also of his courage and progress.

This was yet another prime return in January. What a month!

Steve Balboni: 1/1, 14 days.

I love the look of 1983 Topps, and they often look really good with ink as well. “Bye Bye” is a strict one card per request guy, so I wanted to pick out something really good to send his way. He’s not in the ’81 Fleer set: Steve was still with AAA Columbus then. His rookie card is a 1982 Topps team prospects card, so the sophomore ’83 Topps was an easy choice. Known for dingers and strikeouts, Steve would probably still fit into the game fairly well today. Well, maybe a couple years ago, but then he’d have to retool his swing like everyone’s been doing and go for that optimal launch angle. Thanks Statcast!

Just kidding, I love baseball and damn near everything about it. How can you not love this card? Balboni’s just hulking out, putting his wood right out there for the camera. He knows he’s about to pound the bleachers with batting practice bombs.

Mike McCormick: 2/2, 10 days.

Ah, another of the Legends cards I sent out. McCormick was a fine pitcher for the Giants from 1956-62 and 1967-70, with a few other stops in between and a couple brief stints afterward. He led the NL in ERA in 1960, and was named to all four All-Star teams in ’60 and ’61. He had a fabulous season in his return to San Francisco in 1967, leading the NL in wins and taking home the Cy Young award. It’s always fun to add some award winner ink to the collection.

When I’m sending out one of these Legends or Swell cards, I like to try and find a nice piece of (affordable) vintage to go along with it. So I usually pop over to TCDB and start browsing through the gallery of a player’s cards, looking for the best options, and then I hop over to eBay/Sportlots to try and find a reasonably priced copy. For Mr. McCormick here, that choice was extremely easy: the old action sequence cards from Topps are delightful. I grabbed this one in a Sportlots order for a few bucks.

Bud Selig: 1/1, 41 days.

Bud Selig does not need to be in the Hall of Fame. Most Commissioners do not, but it seems that all it takes is for you to have a decent length of tenure and to not royally fuck up baseball. But, he’s there, and I had this card, and adding to my HOF autographs is a fun process, so what the heck.

That said, I have a fair amount of contempt for this man. Not for most of the reasons you’re thinking about, but primarily for several times he screwed over the Astros during his tenure. Let’s talk about allowing the Astros to get screwed into an entire month on the road thanks to the owner being allowed to let the RNC use the ‘Dome for the 1992 convention. Let’s talk about forcing the team to move leagues on the sale (instead of, oh, maybe putting the Brewers back in the American League), or forcing the Astros to play a series against the Cubs at “neutral site” Milwaukee during Hurricane Ike. Yeah, we got Zambrano-no’d then, no thanks to ol’ Bud here.

But hey, we’re the goddamn World Champions now. So keep smiling, Bud. I could care less.

John Paciorek: 7/4, 7 days.

Now this is one hell of a cool return. That’s a Fritsch “One Year Winners” card from one of the two delightful sets of barely-known ballplayers that Larry Fritsch put out. It was the only card issued of Paciorek until the Tri-Star Obak set came out in 2011.

That might as well be “OGW” on the banner, though, because John Paciorek only ever played in one major league game. And he was absolutely perfect. He is Mr. Perfect, actually, going 3-for-3 with a walk, three singles, four runs scored, and 3 RBI in his lone appearance. Yes, that’s a 1.000/1.000/1.000 slash line and a 2.000 OPS.

Paciorek was actually one of the Colt .45s top prospects – a kid who had put up fine numbers at the University of Houston before being signed by the club. He was a stellar athlete, 6’2″ and full of promise. So in the final game of the 1963 season – two days after the Colt .45s started an entire lineup of rookies, Paciorek made his big-league debut, with his perfect game.

I whipped up three customs of John, using some old photos I’d managed to track down. This Wilson Franks style card features one of my few attempts at colorizing an old black and white photo. It’s definitely got some flaws, but I think I did pretty well with it.

The other two cards were the design I made based on the old 1962 Phillips magazine covers. I’d offered the duplicate copies for John to keep, but he signed all of them. I believe this is a spring training photo, not a shot from his only big-league game.

This one is probably my favorite from the bunch. I know for certain that this is a photo from Spring Training at Apache Junction – though I don’t know if it dates to 1963 or 1964. I’ve been leaning toward 1963 based on some of the other images in the set. I’d found this beauty while looking through the digital archives of the UH Library. It was part of the George Kinsey papers, one of several Colt .45 related pieces among the collection. Most everyone knows about Roy Hofheinz, arguably the best-known of the group that brought major league baseball to Houston, father of the Astrodome and long-term head of the Houston Sports Authority. Kinsey was one of the other prominent men who helped secure the franchise. Anyhow, this is a photo of John during outfield fielding practice – Jim Busby is actually shadowing him and coaching him on tracking fly balls.

Steve Blass: 3/3, 11 days.

We close out January by transitioning from Mr. Perfect to a man often known for his imperfection: Steve Blass. The Pirates hurler had some fine seasons in Pittsburgh from 1968-1972, making the All-Star team and finishing runner-up in the NL Cy Young voting in 1972. Blass also played an integral role in the team’s 1971 championship, throwing two complete games, giving up just two runs on seven hits while striking out 13 batters. His effort in games 3 and 7 sealed the Series for the ‘Buccos.

From there, however, things went south. Following the ’72 season, Blass developed the yips, and had tremendous trouble attempting to regain his form. 1974 saw the last time he stepped on a major-league mound.

Steve would go on to become the color man on Pirates’ broadcasts, and was said to be a fine broadcaster. It’s a shame that many people only remember his breakdown at the end of his career and not the great years he had before that.

Well, there you have it – the entire month of January 2017 returns. That’s 23 in total, one of my best months in terms of both quantity and quality. Baker, Richardson, Sabathia, Don Newcombe! I added two Rookies of the Year (Newcombe and Cordova), an MVP (Newk), three Cy Young winners (Newk, McCormick, Sabathia), a HOFer (Selig), two Manager of the Year winners (Baker and Lanier), and a reliever of the year (Campbell). Plus there were seven Astros additions, and a pair of World Champion Pirates. What a month!

Alright, only five more months to catch up on before the New Year rolls around. Oh, and there’s still a ton of trades I need to post about – looks like it’s going to be too many to knock out by the end of the year, but I’m going to set a goal for January at the latest.

 – Marc

6 Replies to “TTM Report: January 2017”

  1. I think that Cey adopted the long tail at the end of his last name after his playing days ended. THe autos I have from him that I got during the 1980s did not have a super-long tail, IIRC.

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