A peek inside my autograph collection, part 3

I noticed that, in the titles of the first two posts in this series, I initially spelled peek as peak.

I went to college for journalism, I swear.

Anyway, moving on.

Today we have Russ Springer, Bill Schroeder and Cris Carpenter.

I sent to Springer in late November 2021 and he responded in 32 days, signing 1/1.

I never understood how Springer managed to forge such a long career—18 seasons—or why teams kept signing him. From 1992 to 1998, his ERA was 5.18 and he had not posted a mark under 4.10 to that point. Then in 1999, he had a solid year with Atlanta—a 3.42 mark in 49 appearances—but he followed that with ERAs of 5.08, 7.13 and 8.31, missing a year in-between.

Granted, from 2004 to 2008, he had a solid run with the Astros and Cardinals, posting ERAs of 2.18 and 2.32 in 2007 and 2008, respectively. But in 2004, he was already 35. That was his 13th season. How does a guy with a career 5.18 ERA and 86 ERA+ through 2003 forge a 13-year career without being a LOOGY?

Whatever magic teams thought he had kept him around long enough to appear in 740 games, which is 84th all-time—tied with Ryan Madson and one spot behind Steve Carlton … a starting pitcher.

Schroeder was a catcher for the Brewers and Angels, playing mostly in the ’80s. He wasn’t quite a slugger like Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk or Lance Parrish, but he held his own, averaging 26 home runs per 162 games. And though that sounds impressive, he never actually hit more than 14 in a single campaign, as he was mostly a backup throughout his eight-year career.

His 1987 season was rather anomalous. Before that year, he was a .197 career hitter and after that year, he batted .189. But something clicked in ’87, as he hit .332 with 14 home runs, 42 RBI and 83 hits in 75 games (all career highs). Not too shabby.

I’ve sent to him three times in my life. The first request, sent in late June 2018, is still floating around out there—he hasn’t responded. When I mailed to him in August 2021, he signed a card in 42 days. A few months later, in December, I sent him another card, and he signed it in 21 days.

Chris Carpenter is a former Cy Young Award-winning pitcher for the 2000s and 2010s Cardinals who had Hall of Fame potential but not Hall of Fame health or consistency in the early going, when he was a Blue Jay. Cris Carpenter also pitched for the Cardinals … and that’s basically where the similarities end.

That Cris Carpenter pitched for St. Louis from 1988 to 1992 before moving on. He was a reliever of minor consequence, though his 1992 season was pretty solid—73 games, 2.97 ERA.

And unlike the more modern Carpenter, Cris has always been amenable to autograph seekers, signing for me twice. I’ve written to Chris six times over the years and he has yet to respond … and he barely responds to anyone else, either.

I first sent a card to Cris (no ‘h’) in August 2020 and received it back signed 27 days later. I sent to him again in November 2021 and received that card back in 46 days.

A peek inside my autograph collection, part 2

Let’s dive right in.

Mike Madsen, not to be confused with the similarly named actor, was once a fairly well-regarded prospect in the Athletics system. He was 6-1 with a 1.69 ERA his first professional campaign, 2005, and by his third, he was in Triple-A. He even made the 2007 Futures Game. Unfortunately, he never advanced beyond Triple-A, as it appears injuries took their toll.

I wrote to him in late November 2021 through his home address and received his autograph 24 days later, on December 17.

Pitcher Rafael Novoa spent parts of two seasons in the majors, playing for the Giants in 1990 and the Brewers in 1993. He wasn’t particularly successful either year, though he did manage a save in seven appearances for San Francisco—despite a 6.75 ERA—and he completed two of his seven starts with Milwaukee, despite going 0-3.

I sent to him in mid-November 2021 and he responded in just 25 days. I sent to him again last November, but he has yet to reply.

I used to collect Royal Rookies cards religiously as a kid—one free autograph per pack!—so, despite the company releasing sets only twice, in 2000 and 2001, I accumulated a lot of their cards.

That’s why, though Jon Tucker never reached the major leagues—he peaked at Double-A—I had enough cards to write to him three times. He’s signed each time.

I first sent him a letter in mid-November 2009 and he signed 3/3 in just 8 days. I wrote to him again in July 2019 and he signed 1/1 in 10 days. I most recently wrote to him in December 2021 and he signed one card in 11 days. He also included a signed note.

A peek inside my autograph collection, part 1

I’ve been collecting autographs through-the-mail for over 20 years now, but it was in 2003 that I really got into the hobby. That’s when it became a passion.

I used to run a website called Alex’s Autographs, where I posted my daily successes, which you can still visit—though I haven’t updated it since July 2020. I’m not sure how much longer it will be around, as Webs.com, the host, began to shift all their content to another host and I have a hunch that if I log in, the old content will disappear completely. So, I’ll leave it be, untouched, for now.

It was a fun project, that website. I started it in 2004 and updated it regularly for about 10-15 years, but as I got older, went off to college and started working updates became fewer and farther between. Before I started updating again in March 2020, I had gone about a year-and-a-half between posts. Then I did a lot of work with it for a few months. Then I stopped altogether, again.

Life’s busy, man.

The site used to have all sorts of features. I used to run a monthly contest where folks could win free autographs. I had a featured website, where I would tout fellow collectors’ little corners of the Internet. I had a bunch of lists and pages—players who charged to sign, archives of all my past successes, hints and tips. It developed into quite the helpful resource, if I do say so myself.

I pared it down over the years as it became too unwieldy and too time consuming to update. But at its peak, it was pretty popular, even earning a write up in Tuff Stuff magazine.

Anyway, my passion for collecting autographs hasn’t waned. I still send out hundreds of requests each year. So, why not post a little about the successes I’ve received over the years? I have binders full of autographs and I’ll go through them, one page at a time. That should give me plenty of material.

Let’s start on Page One, of Binder Six. Or maybe Seven. I lose track.

Here we have Michael Tucker, Scott Garrelts and Brian Johnson.

I’ve written to Tucker three times in my day, and he’s responded twice … and they both came back on the same day. The first request I sent was in December 2016. It arrived 1,851 days later—that’s more than five years, for those counting—in mid-January 2022. I sent him another request in September 2019, but he never responded. Then in late December of that year, I sent him a third request, which came back on the same day as the first one. That took 750 days, or a little more than two years. He signed 3/3 and 1/1 cards, respectively.

Tucker is an easily forgotten outfielder, but he clobbered 125 home runs in his career and stole as many as 23 bases in a campaign.

Garrelts is a highly underrated pitcher from the 1980s and early 1990s. He earned an All-Star selection as a reliever in 1985 (74 G, 2.30 ERA, 13 SV, 9.0 K/9), then Cy Young votes as a starter in 1989 (14-5 W-L, league-leading 2.28 ERA). And just like that, he fell off, and was out of the majors after a decade in it.

I sent him an autograph request in November 2021 and received 4/4 cards signed back in mid-January 2022. He signed in 68 days.

Two Brian Johnsons have made the major leagues—one was a catcher mostly for the Padres and Giants in the 1990s and early 2000s. The other was a pitcher for Boston in the mid-to-late 2010s. This Brian Johnson is neither of those—rather, he was a catcher in the Indians chain who spent a couple seasons at Triple-A, 1991 and 1992, but never reached the majors. He was Cleveland’s second round pick in 1988 (Mark Lewis was their #1 pick that year), but never panned out.

I wrote to him twice. I initially tried him in late November 2021, but it came back return to sender—bad address. I found a new one and not a couple weeks later sent to him again. He signed that time in 32 days.

Random autograph of the day: London Bradley

Drafted by the Cubs in 1992, one pick after pitcher Melvin Bunch and ahead of future Gold Glover Jose Cruz, Jr., Bradley spent all of three seasons and 102 games in their system before his career was over.

His 1993 campaign was solid, as he hit .301 in 49 games for the Single-A Peoria Chiefs, but beyond that, accomplishments were sparse. Considerable trouble was had in the field, as the third baseman posted a .847 fielding percentage his first campaign and a .884 mark overall. 

Random autograph of the day: Zach Duke

The career of Zach Duke was an interesting trek, one that started in his debut 2005 campaign and ran to 2019 (yes, astonishingly, he was still pitching).

He gave Pirates fans hope with his stupendous rookie campaign, going 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA in 14 starts; he finished 5th in Rookie of the Year voting, despite his truncated season. Those hopes were dashed by the next year, however, as he lost 15 games and led the league in hits allowed, then went 3-8 and 5-14 the next two campaigns, respectively.

In 2009, he made the All-Star team, despite going 11-16, leading the league in losses and allowing 231 hits in 213 innings. In fact, he did not post a winning record from 2006 to 2011, breaking that run with a 1-0, 8 appearance campaign with Washington in 2012.

But that brief stint with Washington, in which he had a 1.32 ERA, was a hint of things to come. From that point to 2016, he posted a 3.12 ERA, a 126 ERA+ and a 9.4 K/9 IP ratio in 260 games as an effective left-handed relief pitcher for five teams. That ERA is deceptively high, too—it would be lower if not for a clunker campaign (2012, 6.03 ERA) thrown in. The veteran with nine big league teams under his belt might have pitched his last pitch, as he is currently a free agent.

Random autograph of the day: Ross Ohlendorf

Ross Ohlendorf was one of those pitchers that never seemed to go away. You’d forget about him, because he was toiling on the farm, then he’d resurface with a big league club, post a few solid—or disastrous—appearances, then he’d disappear again.

Originally in the Diamondbacks system, he was part of the trade that sent Randy Johnson from the Yankees back to Arizona. His tenure with New York was mostly rocky, but after a trade to the Pirates, he posted a laudable 2010 line of 11 wins, 10 losses and a 3.92 ERA in 29 starts (no superstar names were involved in that deal [though Jose Tabata was a superstar-to-be when it went down]).

Two-thousand-and-eleven was a foil campaign, as he went 1-11, but with a still respectable 4.07 ERA. The wheels fell off in 2011 and 2012 (5-7, 7.94 line between Pittsburgh and San Diego), before he had a nice renaissance with Washington in 2013 (4-1, 3.28 in 60.1 innings). He did not appear in the majors in 2014, then like the journeyman he was, found himself with a new club in 2015 —the Rangers, with whom he had a 3.72 ERA in 21 relief appearances.

He finally found a stable role in the Reds bullpen in 2016, making 64 appearances and averaging 9.3 strikeouts per 9 innings, but his ERA of 4.66 enthused no one and his big league career was over after that. He finished in Japan in 2017, posting a 5.50 mark in 4 starts.

Random autograph of the day: Jason LaRue

Jason LaRue was a Reds fixture for many years, spending eight of his 12 major league seasons with the club; He spent 12 of his 16 professional campaigns in their system.

Though blessed with some pop—he hit as many as 16 home runs in a campaign —LaRue was a defense-first backstop. Leading the league in caught stealing percentage and runners caught stealing in 2001, with 60.9 and 42, respectively, his .991 career fielding percentage ranks 88th all-time among catchers, and he four times finished in the top 10 in catcher assists. Twice he was among the top 10 in double plays turned. But he wasn’t without his pitfalls back there— he paced the loop in passed balls thrice and finished second once and third once in errors committed.

He had some defensive versatility, too: He played 8 games at first, 5 in the outfield and 4 at third base; among those 17 non-catcher appearances, 4 were starts. He wrapped up his career with the Cardinals in 2010.

Random autograph of the day: Dominic DeSantis

Dominic DeSantis was drafted three times, last by the Phillies in the 20th round of the 1991 draft.

At 22, he was a senior citizen in the leagues in which he pitched in 1991, his first year, but his numbers were excellent: 1.98 ERA, 0.960 WHIP in 15 starts between Rookie ball and Single A, with just 17 walks and 79 hits allowed in 100 innings of work.

The next season, at A ball, he had a 2.71 mark in 133 innings, allowing just 123 hits and 29 BBs. Over the next two campaigns, his ERA jumped to 3.45 then to 4.57 — an occurrence more excusable when someone is moving up into the higher, more competitive ranks … but DeSantis was still in (high) A ball.

Though many players experience a career resurgence upon joining the independent leagues after struggling or stagnating in affiliated ball, such was not the case with DeSantis: He moved to the Northern League in 1994 to wrap up his career, posting a 5.86 ERA in 43 innings. 

Random autograph of the day: Mike Devaney

Mike Devaney holds a special place in my heart, because he’s a former Mets prospect, and I, of course, am a Mets fan.

He showed great potential in the early going, posting a 5-0 mark with 1.95 ERA in 14 starts his first professional season, 2004, and going 10-4, 3.88, while averaging just 7 hits allowed per 9 innings, in his second campaign. In 2006, he was 12-5 with a 2.13 mark, an excellent year indeed, before slipping to 6-9, 4.85 in his fourth and final season.

It’s odd the Mets didn’t give him another campaign to redeem himself, with 2007 being his first real struggle. Sure, he was 24 in 2007, but that is far from old. One wonders if injuries did him I’m, of that I’m not sure. Either way, he was 33-18 with a 3.24 ERA overall, a great line for someone who never made the majors. 

Random autograph of the day: Paul Ellis

Paul Ellis was a St. Louis Cardinals first round pick, taken 30th overall in 1990 between outfielder Midre Cummings and pitcher Brian Williams. Though he never became a recognizable face in the majors … because he didn’t reach them … he did become well-known at Double A Arkansas, spending three full seasons and two partial years there.

While he did not find much success in the affiliated ranks, he exploded in independent baseball: With the Western League’s Reno Chukars in 1997, he slashed .337/.464/.570 with 16 home runs and 75 RBI in 84 games. To that point, he had not hit higher than .255 or had more than 6 home runs in a season. That was his only year in indy ball, however, and was also his final professional campaign. Another point of interest: He did not steal a single base in 696 pro games.