TTM’ing: Questions, projects, and a laundry list of thoughts

“Hi! My name is Cody Cutter. I am 32 years old and live in Sterling, Illinois.”

I can’t write letters like that anymore. However, that’s how I got a few NASCAR Hall of Famers and one Cooperstown manager, among others. That was in the late 1990s, when I was young enough to not understand what the acronym “SASE” stood for.

When I was in grade school, and a frequent customer of the 1st and 10 sports shop in downtown Rock Falls, I had more than just baseball cards. I had plenty of racing, football and basketball cards.

Autographs came up in a discussion somewhere, and I learned that I was more likely to get my racing cards autographed than the other sports. All I had to do was mail them to a driver’s fan club, and they would take care of it all. The Beckett Racing Monthly would list the addresses of the fan clubs in its autograph section. My biggest successes included Richard Petty, Bill Elliott, Roger Penske, Jack Roush, the late Dick Trickle, and former Busch Series champ David Green, among others.

Racing

Once I experienced the thrill of getting racing returns, I found time to start on the baseball cards. Knowing the players were going to be busy being baseball players, for some reason I thought that the non-players (managers, coaches, front office people) were likely to have less fan mail and thus increasing my chances to get a quick autograph (remember, I was barely a teenager when thinking like this).

I don’t remember who I all wrote to, but I do remember the ones that I got back – be it success or failure.

My earliest successes were:
• John Olerud – 1/1 via the Mariners – didn’t sign my card, but signed one of his personal testimonial cards. It’s still a success to me.
• Tony La Russa – 2/2 via the Cardinals – my best return yet, signed both of my A’s manager cards. At that time, Topps didn’t make manager cards and thus I didn’t have a Cardinals manager card of him.
• Shane Andrews – 1/1 – I’m not sure where I got this from, or where I sent it. Signed my 1991 Bowman. He once led the majors in home runs after about 2 weeks into the 1998 season, and hit the first home run of the 21st century – for the Cubs in the 2000 Opening Day game played in Japan.
• Glenallen Hill – 2/2 – I don’t remember where I sent this to, but he signed 2 Blue Jays cards in blue marker.
• Jack Lazorko – 1/1 – The only return I got from an extremely-quick aborted idea to make it a large task to get as many baseball cards signed as possible. It’s an 1980s Angels card (earliest alphabetically in my card box). But, hey, it’s a success.

I have in-person signatures from the late Darryl Hamilton and Al Leiter (at a Mets game), a ticket stub from former Cardinals reliever Steve Klein, and a card from Ozzie Guillen (from spring training in Tucson). I also have a few autos through baseball card companies – which really don’t count in this thrilling adventure.

I also have a Ty Griffin autograph. My buddy Beau (@OneMillionCubs) is going to want to know this story. Some time around 2000 I went to a rummage sale in town that advertised baseball cards. I bought my first Carl Yastrzemski there, but I also took a chance on some card that looked to me like someone scribbled on it. The person claimed it was an autograph. But I didn’t see any resemblance of the words “Ty” or “Griffin” on the card. I don’t even know how much I paid for it, but it couldn’t have been that much. Years later, after Beau had posted some Ty Griffin autographs, I compared them to the card I had. Sure enough, this was a real autograph. The card is his 1989 Topps rookie signed in blue ballpoint pen, and I can only surmise that the signing took place in person at a Peoria Chiefs game that year.

Cards

BACK TO BUSINESS

In this quest to breathe life back into this old collection (get used to this phrase, I will be using this a lot when writing about my cards), I’ve decided to go back into doing TTM autographs.

I’m much older, smarter, and more resourceful than the last go-around. That, and a lot of other things have changed – unfortunately, for the worse.

Since the last time I did this, auction sites like eBay and Amazon have been a quick way for people to try to make a quick buck. I personally believe the economic downturns of the 2000s have enticed card collectors to make up fake stories to increase chances of getting autographs and then selling them online to “flip” their items – turning a $0.05 common card into a $5 autographed common.

Sports figures aren’t stupid. They catch onto it. Unfortunately, I think many of them believe that the status quo when it comes to autographs is that the person requesting it is trying to turn it into immediate cash. I personally believe that autographs are for people to enjoy, and serve as interesting conversation pieces. Now, there will eventually be a time when the autograph collection will turn into cash, but that will only come when I’m dead.

These “mass hounds” will write to anyone and try to be real convincing that either they were a fan of this time halfway across the country growing up, or their older relative is from halfway across the country and once sam him pitch. I think that stuff gets old after a while. Here’s a shock: I’ve only been to two major league baseball games in my life; White Sox vs. Angels 1996, and Cardinals vs. Mets 2000. I’ve only seen 10 pitchers pitch and 50 players play. My dad, uncle and his parents have gone to a couple of Reds games during the Big Red Machine era.

I think the more truthful you are, the more likely you’re going to get the autograph. I do have a favorite team – the White Sox – and I keep tabs on them. It was so cool to see them win the World Series in the year I graduated from high school (2005).

Since I enjoy the White Sox, that’s the team I will start my first wave of TTMs on. I’ll keep it simple, and try to get as many people through the stadium as I can. In keeping with my belief that players get more fan mail than retired players, I’m going to start with the retired players. These are the coaches (like Mark Salas), announcers (like Steve Stone), front office people (like Kenny Williams), and the group of White Sox “Ambassadors”.

I should note that I do not have a White Sox card of Steve Stone. I read somewhere about a way to make use of the old Fleer “star sticker” cards with the team logo on it. I have several of those, and have set aside some of those sticker cards as “wild cards” for team personnel who may not have an official White Sox baseball card. One will go to Stoney, and I will also send him a Cubs sticker card for him to sign. Others are planned to go to Hawk Harrelson, Jerry Reinsdorf, and longtime PA announcer Gene Honda.

After this White Sox project, my next one is to get a collection of former Illinois high school baseball players. I’ll try to ask them about old high school tales that they may want to share, as these kind of stories really interest me. The addresses will be a challenge to find, but I think I’ll be up to it.

A disclaimer about that last paragraph: I am a newspaper sports journalist. We are bound by certain ethical responsibilities and standards, most importantly to not use our position as such to obtain personal gifts. In most instances, the rules are lax when it comes to preps writers such as myself. If I were covering the White Sox, it would be another story. However, my company has “tabs” on Royals pitcher Jake Junis (RF native), Blue Jays pitcher J.A. Happ (St. Bede grad), and Braves pitcher Mike Foltynewicz (Sterling native, moved when he was 2); those three players are “off limits” to me for autographs as long as they are active – but retired players are fine.

QUESTIONS I HAVE

I’m glad you made it this far. I now have questions about the whole TTM experience, especially since times have changed drastically since the last time I did this:

• How do you convince signers that this IS for my personal collection, and will NOT SELL IT on eBay? As I mentioned, I believe players have it in their minds that the requester is going to sell it online for a quick buck. I’d sure hate it if I were used like that. Do I make them some sort of sell-proof guarantee?

• How do you know if a signer charges, and how do you know what they charge? Databases exist online with successes with fees described, but sometimes that can change – maybe they choose another charity, or have it rough financially. To me, it’s like the chicken-or-the-egg argument. Is it worth $1 in stamps to find out what the charge is? Even doing that will prompt the player to think of a random number.

• Cash through the mail – It is not illegal, but the postal service doesn’t recommend it. I’ve thought of sending in a separate security envelope, or stapling a pair of index cards together and placing a folded bill inside it. Checks can be suspect, and money orders seem like a chore for both parties.

OTHER THOUGHTS

• Like those Fleer “star sticker” logos, team cards can also be considered “wild cards” for those who don’t have an official card. I’ve got plenty of those tiny square 1987 Sportflics team logo cards which a marker won’t quite work for – and the signature has to be real small. Digging through my White Sox cards recently, I had a 1991 Upper Deck team card and a pair of 1996 Fleer team cards. The latter, however, is mostly black, and they are not great for autographs.

• If you’re trying to make the most conversation out of a card, I’d recommend getting a player’s final year card from Topps, Collector’s Choice (of the 1990s), Fleer, and Score signed. Those companies usually have full season stats, and better tell a story of a player’s career – as opposed to Donruss and it’s “recent major league performance” list. Season highlight cards are another good one.

• The more you try to entice conversation, the more likely you’ll get an autograph. Don’t write a novel, though. This blog post would be considered too long for TTM conversation.

• I try not to have Topps cards signed from 1982, 1980, 1977, 1975, 1971, and other years where the autograph is stamped. Some of the older players may think the card is already autographed, and are less likely to sign “again.”

• Steer clear of having the chrome-based cards (Topps Finest, Bowman’s Best, anything “chrome”) and ultra-glossy cards (Flair) signed. The signatures do not stick and get manipulated through the mail.

• Keep the SASE envelopes if you can. This will help prove authenticity of the card. Write both a return address and your address on the SASE before you send the request. The cancellation of the stamps on the envelope is the proof you need, plus whatever else gets sent.

• I would feel ripped off if I found out that someone was using an autopen. So I try not to send 1 card. I usually send 2 to be signed. For some unusual circumstance I may request 3. Anything 4 or more is too much, IMO. Having multiples can create a comparison. If the autos look EXACTLY the same on different cards, chances are it may be an autopen.

• A note about the above item: In an effort to minimize my personal “keeper” collection, I will try to mail out 5 cards to a player, with a big note to ask to have a couple signed and a couple for them to keep. I believe in the spreading of the hobby, and having players keep cards does a couple of interesting things: 1) If they have kids or grandkids that don’t have cards of their father or grandfather, they now have one – same with neighbor kids or any other young kid; 2) The players will have something of their own to sign for autograph requests in which nothing is provided to them. The 2:1 tradeoff is worth it to me, and if I get all 5 back signed, awesome!

I’ll be happy to discuss this with anyone. Comment below or send me an email (shs42886 at yahoo dot com).

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