Monday, March 26, 2012

Epic TTM - "Mule"

First of all - much thanks to my friends William (Foul Bunt) and Drew (Drew's Cards) for passing along their own great TTM experiences with Mr. John Miles.   Even before my pursuit of Mr. Miles, they have been very generous in their sharing of TTM experiences, knowledge and information.   William is responsible for several of my great successes over the past year and has opened my eyes in general to some great legends of the game that fell outside of my previously all-too-narrow "HOF-er only" approach to seeking autographs through the mail.   Drew is a fellow Yankees fan, so we often email back and forth as I scramble to maximize the 'Pinstripe' part of my collection.

They also run two of the best blogs out there and I would encourage everyone to check them out on a regular basis!

Now, on to my own great experience with Mr. John "Mule" Miles.   He signed the ROMLB that I sent to him along with a Signature Card and one other very special item.   He also took the time to write a letter in response to several questions that I had inserted throughout my letter to him.  

There's something special about reading through the incredible memories of extraordinary times from his own hand.   His story is quite remarkable.   Here's my attempt to do it justice.

I asked Mr. Miles what his fondest memories were from his playing days with the Giants in the Negro American League:

"The players accepted me as a player, brother and friend - helping me along the way.   There were tears, joys, triumph and laughter as we played the game.   We won most of our games.   Those we lost we did so in a very sportsman-like manner.   I have no regrets.   The Giants were good." *

John Miles never played in the major leagues but I think we could all agree that a mental asterisk could be applied to a discussion of players who played the game in any of the Negro Leagues during baseball's segregated period.   Mr. Miles only played professionally for a few years, from 1946 to 1952.   At the urging of his friends, he tried out for the Chicago American Giants in '46 and made the team, where he went on to play professional ball for about $300 per month.   At 6'3" and almost 230 pounds, Miles was an imposing figure.   He was known to have strong wrists and "wiry arms".   Despite a lack of speed, he played both 3B and all three outfield positions and was known to have pretty good range with a strong arm.

I asked Mr. Miles if there was any particular home run from his career that sticks out in his mind:

"In 1948, hitting two home runs in one ball game.   The nickname "Mule" was originated by the manager, Jim "Candy" Taylor.   Also, hitting 11 home runs in 11 straight games.   Still sticks out." *

In retrospect, I now feel like my question was a bit rhetorical!   Of course it would be his streak of 11 and dual-homer game that resonate in his memory as he looks back.   I love the introspective sense that you get with his wording.   I can almost see him referring to the streak of 11 before leaning back in his chair for a moment and then nodding to himself and, with a quick grin, whispering "...still sticks out..."

In 1948, John Miles slammed 27 home runs despite batting in the bottom half of the Giants' order, hitting at a steady .250 clip for the season.   Most of those 27 home runs came during his famous streak of 11 home runs in 11 games.   It shattered any existing record at the time and would still stand today in the major leagues.   This particular record has special meaning for me as a Don Mattingly fan.   Donnie's clubbing of eight home runs in eight consecutive games in 1987 is one of my favorite highlights for my favorite all-time player.   The Hitman matched Dale Long's previous mark in 1956 and then Ken Griffey Jr. repeated the feat in 1993.   Pretty good company!

As Mr. Miles described above, he displayed his raw power throughout his years with the Giants, earning his nickname after hitting two homers in one game.   His coach, 'Candy Jim' Taylor quipped to his young player, "You hit that ball like a mule kicks!" - the name stuck.   With the color barrier broken in baseball by Jackie Robinson, "Mule" Miles went on to become the first African American ball player in the South Texas League where he would play for the Laredo and San Antonio until he retired in '52.

John Miles played with many great ball players.   I asked him who the best pitcher, hitter or defensive player was that he ever faced on an opposing team.   I followed that query up by asking who amongst the present-day players did he enjoy watching the most: 

"The best pitcher was Satchel Paige.   I never got a hit off of Satchel.   Josh Gibson was the best hitter and defensive player, with the Homestead Gray's.   Present-day team - the Texas Rangers.   Player - Josh Hamilton with the Rangers." *

Most impressively to me, John Miles is a military veteran.   As a veteran myself and the son/grandson/brother-in-law of four servicemen in my family, I can't help but admire the players from baseball's golden age who put on their country's uniform in addition to playing professional baseball.   Add to this the additional challenge of severe racial prejudices that African Americans faced during World War II and his legacy becomes even more awe-inspiring.   In 1942, John Miles enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps and attended Aircraft Mechanic Journeyman Rating School in Tuskegee, Alabama.   It was here that contributed to the maintenance of aircraft destined for service with the Nation's first African-American aviation program, the "Black Wings".   This group of pioneering patriots is more famously known as the Tuskegee Airmen.   I was very hesitant to ask Mr. Miles about his experience as a Tuskegee Airman.   For so many veterans, their service during times of war is very personal.   Often times, they are either too humble to expound upon their memories or are reluctant to do so because of the pain, loss or regret those times might represent.   In the end, I decided to thank him for his service and related my own military connections to let him know that I understood how special his sacrifice had been.   I'm glad I did.   Mr. Miles was very honest and succinct in his response but his pride in the accomplishments of that courageous group of pioneering aviators is what really shines through.

What was the most moving moment for you, good or bad, during your time in the service?

  "I did not fly in combat on missions but I am proud that I am a member of a group that established all kind of records flying fighter planes.   despite the racial barrier of that time they never lost a bomber to the enemy.   The Tuskegee Airmen, the 99th Squadron." *

The paragraph above is an absolute treasure for me.   One of my grandfathers was a radioman on B-24 Bombers and flew combat missions out of England during World War II.   He seldom spoke of his experiences, as they seemed to conjure up painful memories of terror-filled moments and friends who never made it home.   My Grandad completed the requisite number of missions that was required of bomber crews in order to fulfill their obligation and earned a ticket home - but not before surviving a crash landing behind enemy lines during one of their final missions.   The French Resistance provided support in their escape back to Allied-occupied territory......

Long story short - I am here only because my grandfather fought and survived.   And I am sure that at some point - support and protection from fighter escorts helped his B-24 return to soil on the western shores of the English Channel.   After some preliminary research, I am fairly certain that his squadron and/or bomber group were never escorted by the 'Red Tails' of the 99th Fighter Squadron - but they were certainly a part of that fearless fraternity in those skies over Europe and Africa.   A group of warriors that saved the world while selflessly risking all they had with honor, courage, discipline and pride in what they were doing.   I feel like this picture embodies this notion quite well:

Though he is not specifically in this image, Mr. Miles was a member of that group of warriors and has lived by the values I described above for his entire life.   He was kind enough to sign this picture for me and I am very excited to share it with you.   It is a snap shot of the first graduating class of cadets from the Tuskegee Program, taken on the flight line at the base where Mr. Miles and his fellow soldiers trained, worked and defended the nation.   Major James. A. Ellison is shown returning the salute of Cadet Mac Ross.

As you can see, every part of this TTM return has a special meaning for me.   As a baseball fan.   As an American.   As a lover of history.   As a veteran.  

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and sign some keepsakes for me, Mr. Miles.   I will treasure them always, and attempt to pay tribute to Americans like you and my grandfather by following in your footsteps with how I live and passing along the lessons of your life to a new generation.

Thanks for reading.

* Some of Mr. Miles' comments from his letter were altered slightly by me (syntax & grammar) for ease of reading in this blog post

Friday, March 23, 2012

CC: Last of the Lineage

Nick from "Dime Boxes: The Low-End Baseball Card Collector's Journey" came through in a big way a couple of weeks ago.

He quickly RSVP's to my S.O.S. for CC.

Yeah.....I'm proud of that one.   Anyways, as I was saying, Nick really answered the call from my post a few weeks back describing how I was one card away from completing the 2011 Lineage offering from Topps.   He quickly found the Sabathia I needed:


Done and.....DONE!   This is the 2nd set I've completed this year, both of which are a part of my son's birth year "sampling" that will be waiting for him if and when he begins his own love affair with cardboard.  

Re-Hash ALERT!----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Lineage was a tidy little set that consisted of current stars and rookies along with legends of the game.   I liked the front design alright but the back could use some improvement.   The picture selection, particularly for the retired stars, was pretty good - all in color.   The inserts were a lot of fun (pop-ups, 3-D, cloth stickers, etc.).   I'm not sure the price-point matched up with the end result for me, though.   We'll see how it goes this year!

We now return you to new drivel-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Nick wasn't done there, though.   He also knew that I needed some help with my 2012 Series 1 NEEDS List so he sent over some base cards that I needed.

Did I say "some"?   Try DOUBLE STACK:

Oh,'s almost lunch time.   I meant this DOUBLE STACK:

Way too generous, Nick, THANK YOU!   It wasn't just a bunch of commons, either.   You may have heard of a couple of these guys:

Finally allowed to play at his friends' houses

All Hail to the High Socks!


Can Matt keep it going this year?

Thanks for the great package, Nick.   I would also encourage everyone to take a stroll over to Nick's blog.   It's always, ALWAYS a great read and he recently had a tremendous, what I like to call 'vicarious collecting' post series on a recent card show he attended.   He does a great job of walking you through his day at the tables where, as you might guess from his blog name, he searches (and FINDS!) the lower-priced boxes for cardboard treasure.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Steve's Old Yankee Stickers!

Reader Steve recently reached out to offer some help with a few of my sets, including the infamous 1991 Fleer set, 2011 Heritage and 2012 Series 1.   I was able to swap out for some '12 Series 1 that he needed and a few other odds and ends.

And, as is quite common practice for the great collectors I've met out 'here' in the Internet ether - he knew I was a Yankees fan and sent along a great smattering of bonus Yanks!   Here were my two favorites, sticky mini's of Rickey and Rags!

Left to right: John Olerud's closest friend and a Cool Cajun

The Henderson is '88 Topps and the Righetti is '84 Fleer, if I remember correctly.   So very cool.   Here are the rest of the Yankees and the very helpful singles from my Sets NEEDS lists.


The Gardner that you can barely make out was one of a few 2010 Heritage that Steve sent that are my first, since I had only gotten back into the hobby last spring.   I instantly loved them, of course - but I am a Heritage lush and it's probably for the best that I just.....leave that set......alone......

Shiny future for Lind and the Jays foretold by the cards? 


Not sure why the last caption went right-to-left.   Martin and Strawberry are both Yankeedodgers and they are both in my VERY small collection of certified autograph cards (neither of which show them as Yankees).   What's up with that?   A good idea for a post.   Love that All-Star game photo of Straw Man's leg-kick!   OH, what might have been for Mattingly's fellow "Slugger from the Left Side".....

The Set NEEDS lists are updated, folks.   Thanks for the great trade, Steve!   I look forward to our next opportunity.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Heritage: "Got 'em, Got 'em, Need 'em, Got 'em..."

"I have you NOW, Cliff Pennington!"

I've sorted through my 2012 Heritage stash and have organized the "For Trade" and "Need" lists under the tab to the right!   If you're chasing completion of the set or looking for players from your favorite team, please feel free to check out the lists and let me know if there's anything you need.   I'm sure we can work out a deal.

I'm only trying to complete the insert sets.   And as always, cards towards my other set-building/PC ventures are always welcome!

QUESTION to the masses..........

For those of you who, like me, have no Local Card Shop to utilize for card supplies - where do you order most of your supplies from?   Top loaders, team bags and penny sleeves I can find pretty easily online.   But as far as picking up 500, 660 or 800 count and higher storage boxes, are there any reasonable options out there for buying less than 10 at a time?

Thanks for reading!

*That GREAT piece of art featuring a boy and his beloved cards can be found at:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Heritage Hysteria: It's HERE and we're LIVE!

Yessir - for me, the 2nd most anticipated release of the year is here!   A blaster, some racks and some loosies have me on my way.   I do have a question for the audience at the end, as I feel like I have betrayed my set-builder's code of honor with this release....but no worries.   We'll call it an experiment and adjust accordingly.   I'll explain more later.   Let's see some cardboard!   Here's a quick sample of Topps Heritage 2012:

Awkwardly AWESOME!

This card is awesome and may be one of the most hilarious cards I have ever seen.   THIS is my Mystery Science Theater 3000 take on card #173:

Jeter:     "Psssst!  Alex!  Hey, bud....we really need you to pick it up at the plate this year - alright?"

A-Rod:  "(sniff)....I know, man....I'm sorry, Captain.   I've got a new knee now, but I could never be
               you!   This is like Mantle and Maris ALL over again!"  hangs head in shame

Robbie: "Listen to these clowns!  I'll keep doing what I do.....where's my Dad sitting, anyways?"

 I love it.   And you know what else I love about Heritage?   The backs.   Topps seems to spend a lot of time on the backs of this release and I, for one, appreciate that.   I'll show more shots of the backs for these cards than I normally do and here is the first:

Love 'em or hate 'em - they are pretty solid.

Let's break away from New York and cover some Braves action, shall we?   I wasn't able to pull a Fab Fivin' Freddie this time but you can never go wrong with a Jonny "Play Me Every Day" Venters SP and the best catcher in baseball - Brian McCann.   I'm hoping the Cobra Kai Dojo Sensei Gonzalez gives Jonny more of a break this year and fingers are crossed that McCann can stay healthy.


See what I mean about the backs?   Venters retired the two batters he faced in the All-Star game AND he led the Majors in appearances.   BOOM - now you know!   Thanks, Topps.   Let's check out some inserts:


It doesn't get any more '63-ish than a Baseball Flashback Koufax!   Other than having to come to terms with how well he MOWED down the Yankees in the Series, this card is a great tribute to his Pitching Triple Crown achievement.   Time for the News:


As a student of history, I think these inserts are pretty cool.   As a baseball fan, I could do without them - but I would have to think that I would dig them, and learn something, if I were a young buck again.    As a Dad of a couple kids who might be 'sponging' this type of knowledge up in the years to's a great addition to this 'HERITAGE' set, yes?   As for present-day me, this card made me smile and think about trying for a TTM request to this guy:

Welcome to the ROCK!
On with the countdown!   Here are some more highlights:

It's still cool to leave the stickers on your hat?!
My first fantasy draft pitcher selection?

Look up 'baseball' in the dictionary and you'll see THIS guy!

Got thrown out of a bar by Kate Upton; +2,000 COOL points!

And some more Yanks (bare with me, you guys).......



3,088 and counting!

A real quick comment - full stats on the back here.   Another thing I really LOVE about Heritage.   Even the TEAM cards (which, by virtue of their team pictures are COOL anyways!) have a full line of stats for each entry on the roster on the back.   How great is THAT?  

Let's do some more inserts:

I'd smile too, if I were on this mini peel-off!
Welcome to the American League, Hombre!

Love the bleachers and palm tree behind Spahn!

This is what a "Then & Now" card should look like!

Another great thing about Heritage?    Manager cards!   Yep - my chance to grab a card of my favorite all-time baseball player (and now manager), Don Mattingly.   Did I snag one?   You betcha!

It's great to see him smile - I'm rooting for ya, Donnie!

I think Mattingly's place with the Dodgers has given me a reason to cheer for the boys in blue.    SHHHHHH!  Don't tell anyone......a lot of inner turmoil going on with just writing that statement.   But loyalty to heroes runs deep, my friends.   I'm sure there's an Owl out there to help me deal with my feelings....

OKAY - if you're still with me, here's a few more to chew on with a NY theme to act as my Dr. Drew after that last confession:

Speaks for itself.   Really epic card for us Yankee fans.

C-Grand & Floating Heads!

I'm hoping that Granderson has another great, powerful year.   Did you know that he is 30:1 to lead the Majors in home runs?   The Rookie Stars 'floating heads' cards are as trippy as ever.   This one caught my attention - not only because it displays some great Yankees talent but because it gives me the feeling that Topps is still coping with Montero's departure from New York.   Three Yankees and one Mariner?   A Mariner who just happened to be traded late in the off season from the Yankees?

My guess is that they could airbrush 'ol Jesus but didn't have time to swap his head out for another Yankee rookie.   Whatever the case, it is a little peculiar and a great card that tells a story of what might have been.   I wish Jesus the best in Seattle, though.   I think he is going to be a great slugger for the M's as they try to return to greatness.   I think this card shows a lot of confidence:

Boy, do I remember THOSE 2 home runs!
Fare thee well, Jesus.

AND FINALLY - let's end this post with #1, shall we?   THE first card in the set and some more floating heads:

Thanks for sticking with me.   Hope you enjoyed this quick 'first-take' on '12 Heritage.   The set still gets it right, in my opinion.  That thick stock and less-slippery finish just feels right to me.   The cards even smell like baseball cards to me......I know, that's a little weird.   The design of the front and back of these cards are delightfully easyon the eyes.   I don't even wear glasses, but they just seem brighter to me, like a soft-white light bulb.

(record scratch)  Errrr.....what was that?!

Um, anyways - the design is very pleasing to my eye.   The layout, fonts and color all mesh well together.   I even think the card numbers themselves build on the already successful card-number placement/design of the flagship set.   I know, I know - the design is pretty much half a century old.   Well, it still works!   The inserts aren't the greatest and I have carried my streak of ZERO hits in Heritage packs forward from last year, but I believe this set is ALL about the base cards.   It's a great set to collect and enjoy.

Which brings me to my question.

I am still struggling with the completion of 2011 Heritage and I'm not even worrying about the 75 SP's.   I faced some severe duplication in the packs I picked up last year and, as I mentioned - complete NADA on relics or auto's.   SO....I wanted to try something new this year in an effort to save some money.   I pre-ordered a base set from @brentandbecca.

That's right - a self-proclaimed set-builder just up and ordered the set!

It should be here in a week or so and I can't wait to rifle through every card for some edu-ma-cation from the card backs.   @brentandbecca has a great reputation, great prices and was a pleasure to deal with.   This set will be a fine addition to my son's growing collection.

Did I do the right thing, though?   How do you like to collect this release?   Have you ever gone back and forth between set-buying and set-building?

Have I forsaken the challenging fun of piecing this release together, card by card?   Did I take the easy way out?   Only time will tell.   I will soon have these cards sorted and listed for trade, so check back often if you're chasing this one!   Perhaps this will be a good way to claim some Yankees and Braves inserts, via trades with you all in exchange for helping you to complete your Heritage needs since I don't have to build a set anymore. 

I know.  There's no right or wrong.  As my friend Brian over at 30YOC always says, "Collect What You Like".   I think he would also say without hesitation, "Collect How You Like".   I know I like to collect Heritage.   This will be a great litmus test as to how I like to collect it.   Stay tuned!

Grab a Gatorade, my friends.   You made it.   Thanks for reading!