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: 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 notes and musings: September 13, 2021.

Andrus has hit just .224 since 2020. (Wikipedia).

Took long enough: 2021 has not been a great year for Athletics shortstop Elvis Andrus, who has hit just .231/.278/.309 in 135 games. Every time he puts together a decent run, he enters another cold streak, ruining any progress made. Perhaps not this time: Over the past week, he has hit .353 with 6 hits in 17 at-bats. It’s not much, but he’ll take anything at this point.

Give it up for Duffy: The Cubs aren’t going anywhere this year, but infielder Matt Duffy is going places right now. After beginning the season with a .226 mark through August 1, he has hit .294 with 16 runs scored and 8 RBI since to bring his season average up to .259. He began the year with a .309 mark through May 8.

Middling Mitch: Pirates starter Mitch Keller was a second round draft pick in 2014, taken alongside the likes of Alex Verdugo and Spencer Turnbull. While they’ve begun crafting fine careers, Keller has gone in the opposite direction: He is 4-11 with a 6.29 ERA this year and 6-17, 6.07 in 35 career starts. His career ERA+ of 71 is the second-worst among active pitchers with at least 150 innings, behind Burch Smith’s 69.

Coonrod’s cooking: 2021 has been quite the rebound campaign for Phillies reliever Sam Coonrod, who had a 9.82 ERA in 18 games with San Francisco last season. In 35 appearances this year, he has a 3.68 mark and 10.6 K/9 IP ratio. Since August 28, those numbers are 1.29 and 15.4, respectively.

Almost won it: Adam Wainwright has the most Cy Young Award shares among pitchers to never actually win the award, with 1.97. He finished second and third twice each, but never took the honor home. Eddie Murray has the most MVP shares among those who never won it at 3.33. He finished in the top-five five years in a row and six times overall; he also finished second twice in a row. The active player with the most MVP shares to never win is Robinson Cano, at 2.14. He’s finished in the top-10 six times, peaking at third place.

He doubted Ichiro: Not everyone thought Ichiro Suzuki was going to be a star. When he was starting out with Nippon Professional Baseball’s Orix BlueWave in 1992 and 1993, his manager, Shozo Doi, refused to give him regular playing time. In addition to criticizing the young outfielder’s batting stance, he once said Ichiro had “come too far too fast…a player has to know hardship if he’s going to reach his full potential.” In 1994, his first full season, Suzuki hit .385 with 210 hits in 130 games at 20 years old.

Minor league home run leader: Royals prospect MJ Melendez has smashed 37 dingers in just 390 at-bats this season, his first above A-ball, to lead the affiliated minor leagues. Nine of them came in 29 Triple-A games, his first stint at that level.

Steals base Easley: Keep an eye on Rangers prospect Jayce Easley, the son of former major leaguer Damion. The speedster has swiped 69 bases in 93 Single-A games this season, and though his average is a middling .247, he has still managed a .406 on-base percentage. The former 5th-round pick has 91 stolen bases and a .255/.401/.309 line in 139 games in the low-minors.

Far from the Wurtz: Outfielder Gabe Wurtz slashed .382/.511/.588 at University of Virginia’s College at Wise in 2020, then .344/.519/.811 in 33 games in 2021. After going undrafted, he promptly hit .414/.487/.841 with 22 home runs and 86 RBI in 54 games for the independent Tucson Saguaros of the high-flying Pecos League. He also spent 13 less-than-stellar games with the indy Houston Apollos, batting .382/.461/.764 with 24 dingers and 98 RBI overall.

Odd Hall of Fame choice: Shortstop Jack Wilson was elected to the Lancaster JetHawks Hall of Fame in 2006, despite never playing for the team. The closest he got was when he played with the winter league Lancaster Stealth in 1999, with whom he won a championship.

48-year-old Colon was 6-2 with a 4.55 ERA in 11 Mexican League starts this season. (Wikipedia).

Colon reminiscing: Hey Mets fans, remember when Bartolo Colon clobbered an improbable home run?

A lot of seasons, not hits: Catcher Rick Dempsey spent 24 years in the major leagues and played over 100 games in 8 of them. He had 100-plus hits just once, in 1978.

Double Crown: Pitcher Mike Birkbeck was *this* close to winning two pitching Triple Crowns … in the minor leagues. In 1984, while with the Single-A Beloit Brewers, he finished third in victories (3 behind the leader), second in strikeouts (2 behind the leader) and second in ERA (0.22 behind the leader). In 1993, with the Triple-A Richmond Braves, he paced the International League in victories and tied for the lead in strikeouts but was just 0.02 points short of the ERA title. He again got pretty close again in 1994, also with Richmond. That year, he finished two wins and 17 strikeouts short; his ERA missed by 0.31 points.

Three other Millions have played professionally: Robert, Doug and Mike. (Wikipedia).

Not-so-famous first: Who was the first Latin American player in major league history? Cuban infielder Estavo B. “Steve” Bellan, who played for the Troy Haymakers and New York Mutuals in the National Association from 1871 to 1873. The next Cuban—and Latin American—didn’t appear in the majors until outfielder Chick Pedroes in 1902; some consider Luis Castro to be the second Latin American, however his birthplace is disputed. He might have been born in New York City.

He was million-to-one: One of the strangest names in baseball has to belong to 1910s minor league outfielder Ten Million, so named at the behest of his grandmother, who wanted his name to stand out. She also convinced Million to name his daughter Decillian, with the help of a $50 bribe. She went by Dixie later in life.

Stuck in Japan: In 2005, Japanese outfielder Tatsuya Ozeki was signed to a minor league contract by the Brewers but immigration issues—specifically, Milwaukee used up all its work visas—kept him from appearing stateside. He later tried out with Colorado, but they didn’t sign him.

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.

Random autograph of the day: Ryan Carter

For those who think these signatures look a little off, I believe they are ghost-signed—that is, someone other than Ryan Carter signed the cards.

Carter was drafted twice, initially out of high school in 1997, then in the 8th round out of the University of California, Los Angeles in 2000. He was taken in the same round as future pitching stars Dontrelle Willis and Brandon Webb, though such success was not in his professional future.

He played in the minor leagues from 2000 to 2003 and had modest success in the lower levels, striking out 132 in 138.2 innings in 2001. However, in his Double A debut in 2003, he went 2-7 with a 6.00 ERA in 17 starts in what would be his final season. 

Random notes and musings from the world of baseball, September 5, 2021.

Something about those catchers: These past couple days, I’ve noted impressive runs by some otherwise unimpressive catchers—Philadelphia’s Rafael Marchan and Detroit’s Dustin Garneau, for example. Here’s one more: the Blue Jays’ Danny Jansen. In his past 14 at-bats going back to July 11, he’s hitting .500/.533/1.571 with 4 home runs, 3 doubles, 4 RBI and 4 runs scored. That’s right, each of his last 7 hits went for extra bases. He added another dinger yesterday.

Barnhart has won two Gold Gloves. (Wikipedia).

How about one more: Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart has been solid this past month, hitting .294 with a couple home runs, 4 doubles, 11 RBI and 6 runs scored. He’s no Salvador Perez, but any team would take numbers like that.

Found a Holme: Yankees reliever Clay Holmes began the year poorly with Pittsburgh, posting a 5.13 ERA through July 20. A trade to New York changed his fortunes: With his new club, he is 3-0 with a 1.32 ERA in 12 games; in 13 2/3 innings, he’s surrendered just 7 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 16 batters.

Blake’s doing great: It’s the less-known pieces that have helped the Astros to first place in the American League West, reliever Blake Taylor among them. Since July 18, he has a 2.40 ERA in 19 appearances; he hasn’t surrendered a run since August 21. Ryan Pressly is the bullpen’s All-Star, but Taylor, and guys like him, are just as valuable.

Appreciating the Mets’ little guys: Each year, the Mets seem to find at least one diamond in the rough—a guy or two who unexpectedly perform far beyond anyone’s expectations. Brandon Drury, a career .249 hitter, is batting .274 with a .476 slugging mark in 51 games. Pitcher Trevor Williams, acquired from the Cubs in the Javier Baez trade, began the season with a 5.06 ERA, but has a 0.69 mark in 13 innings so far with New York. Even reliever Aaron Loup, who had a 3.38 ERA going into the year, has stunned Metsdom with a 1.16 mark in 55 appearances. Not bad, guys.

Jayson Werth-less: Former Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth signed with the club in December 2010 for seven years and $126 million dollars and hit .263 with 109 home runs, 162 doubles and 393 RBI for the duration of the deal. In other words, each home run cost $1.156 million, each double cost $777,778 and each RBI cost $320,611.

Mr. Consistent: From 2009 to 2019, a span of 11 seasons, former outfielder Adam Jones averaged 162 hits, 25 home runs, 80 RBI and 82 runs scored per year. His season numbers never fell below 126, 15, 63 or 54, respectively.

Winning runs in the family: Former second baseman Chuck Knoblauch won four World Series rings in the 1990s—one with the Twins and three with the Yankees. His father, Ray, was also a champion. He coached Bellaire High School in Texas to four state titles.

Nomo he wasn’t: Before there were Daisuke Matsuzaka and Masahiro Tanaka, there were Hideo Nomo and Katsuhiro Maeda. Never heard of Maeda? In the wake of Nomomania, he was signed by the Yankees in 1996 after a bidding war with the Giants and White Sox. He spent five years in their system and went just 18-21 with a 4.69 ERA, peaking at Triple-A.

More to the Maeda story: After he flunked out of the minor leagues, Maeda continued his baseball journey—but initially not back in Japan. After failing to make a Nippon Professional Baseball team’s roster, he went to Taiwan, where he played in 2002, then Italy, where he spent 2003. In 2004, he signed with the Shanghai Eagles, becoming China’s first Japanese player. As recently as 2008, he was still going in the minor Shikoku-Kyūshū Island League in Japan.

Very first Marlin: He never played in the major leagues, but pitcher Clemente Nunez was the first player ever signed by the Florida Marlins. Inked to a contract on December 16, 1991, he spent five seasons in their system. Included in that run was a 12-6, 2.48 line with Single-A Brevard County in 1995. He was 29-26, 3.51 overall.

Baines was a controversial Hall of Fame pick and his numbers play that out. (Wikipedia).

Just a phantom: Bruce Dostal, a centerfielder who spent four years at Triple-A, was this close to becoming a major leaguer. On the Orioles active roster for four games in June 1994, the ballplayer was twice told by late manager Johnny Oates that he would pinch run for future Hall of Famer Harold Baines if Baines reached base … he didn’t and Dostal was soon sent packing. Despite being with the team, he does not count as a major leaguer because he never appeared in a game. Rather, he became a phantom major leaguer.

Lot of games, but not hits: Speaking of Baines, he has the third-fewest career hits of anyone who played as many games as he did (2,830) with 2,866. Only Brooks Robinson, who had 2,848 knocks, and Rusty Staub, who had 2,716, did worse.

The first youngster: Who was the youngest player in the National Association’s first year, 1871? 17-year-old Joe Battin, who appeared in a single game for the Cleveland Forest Citys. He went hitless.

Battin led the league with 98 games played in 1883, despite batting just .214. (Wikipedia).

Battin worst: Joe Battin’s name is a misnomer … he couldn’t bat well at all. In 10 seasons, he slashed just .225/.241/.281 in 480 games. He holds one of the lowest on-base percentages of anyone with at least 400 games.

No-no not enough: While playing in Japan in 2006, former Padres prospect Rick Guttormson tossed a no-hitter … and was sent down to their version of the minor leagues the next day. Nippon Professional Baseball limits how many foreign players a team can hold and his club, the Yakult Swallows, had recently brought former Mets and Devil Rays hurler Dicky Gonzalez on board. Needing to make room, they cast Guttormson aside.

A different kind of senator: In 1913, minor league first baseman Scott Lucas hit .349 in 95 games, including .462 in 34 showings with the Class-D Pekin Celestials. After a couple more seasons, the Illinois native realized baseball wasn’t for him and chose a career in politics. Serving in the United States House of Representatives from 1935 to 1939, he later became a Senator, remaining in that capacity for over a decade. From 1949 to 1951, he was the Senate Majority Leader.

Random autograph of the day: Ryan Basner

It seems if one is a minor league relief pitcher, he needs to strike batters out at a exceptional rate, post a superhuman ERA for an extended period, or at the very least, rack up a ton of saves, to earn a big league promotion.

Basner did none of the above, so despite spending part or all of four seasons at Triple-A, he never reached the majors. His career was not without highlights, however.

With the rookie-level Danville Braves in 2003, during his first year of pro ball, he went 4-1 with a 1.83 ERA in 19 appearances, averaging 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings. The next year, he averaged 9.7 whiffs per 9 frames. Those years were the outliers, however, as his career rate was 7.6 K/9 IP.

In 2009, his penultimate campaign, he had a 2.88 ERA in 54 games for the independent Somerset Patriots. Unfortunately, his career totals paint a less rosy picture, as he went just 27-32 with a 4.26 ERA and 609 hits allowed in 568 2/3 innings overall.