R.I.P - Alex Johnson, 1964 Phillies

Alex Johnson signed photo

The passing of former Major Leaguer, Alex Johnson on February 28th is just the latest reminder that players from Baseball's "Golden Age" will not be around forever.  Johnson, who spent 13 seasons in the Majors - breaking in with the Phillies during the star-crossed 1964 season and winning the A.L. Batting Crown in 1970, is the latest player from the era to pass.

As a member of the 1964 team, Johnson was brought up to provide right-handed power to the lineup.  In 43 games during the season he batted .303 with 4 HRs and 18 RBIs while platooning in Left Field with Wes Covington.  He was traded to the Cardinals in 1965 with Art Mahaffey for Dick Groat and Bill White.  

Though talented, he never spent more than two seasons with the same team.  Stories from his past include self-induced alienation from teammates and lack of focus on the field.  Unfortunately I missed him at a local appearance for the Poppel's a few years ago - but, when I asked Mr. Poppel (Eric and Adam's dad) about how it went he only spoke of about how polite and pleasant Mr. Johnson was at the show. 

While in conflict with the tales of his playing days, the story reflected his interactions with collectors in retirement.  With a 79% success rate (including many non-responses over the past few months while he was presumably ill), Johnson was regularly listed in recent TTM success listings.  I personally had two requests fulfilled in recent years - each time my cash donation was returned.  Phillies collectors, and the hobby will miss him.

Recent TTM Successes

I've been keeping active with the TTM requests recently.  Despite the fact that February is a prime time for mailing requests to Phillies Spring Training camp I have more or less decided to forgo the opportunity this year.  It's not that I've "grown out" the experience, but am not excited about many of the potential targets.  Instead, I am keeping focus on a few different older-era, team projects.

1960 Eagles Program Cover

1960 Eagles - Championship Program Autograph

A long dormant effort that I'd like to spend more time on this year, the photo is of the 1960 Championship Game program cover.  I started the project with Chuck Bednarik a few years ago.  This most recent success came from a key member of the 1960 team, running-back Billy Ray Barnes. 

What I love most about collecting teams I missed is getting to learn more about the season and the players who were involved.  I have seen Barnes autographed photos over the years, but never knew he was the first ACC player to rush for 1,000 yards (as an All-American with Wake Forest in 1956), or that he was a three-time Pro Bowl selection for the Eagles (1957-59).

Phillies Wall of Fame

Phillies Wall of Fame photo

I got this new favorite project out to Larry Bowa right before pitchers and catchers reported to Clearwater early last month.  I recommend Bowa to anyone who is new to TTM.  He is as guaranteed as it gets - both at home and the stadium.  The photo is now out to Hall of Famer, Jim Bunning...

Phillies TTM Successes

I came across a few abandoned, team-autograph projects while recently cleaning up my Phillies Room: The 1950s-era Phillies photo and a Phillies Wall of Fame photo.  It has been a few months since I added any new signatures to either - but the passing of several former Phils late last year brought about the cruel reality that the players from the "old days" will not be around forever...

Chuck Essegian - 1950s-era Phillies

Essegian broke into the Majors with the Phillies in 1958 - collecting 114 at-bats across 39 gamesIt turned out to be his only season with the team as he was traded to the Cardinals before 1959 for Ruben Amaro, Sr.  (Note: This may actually be one of those history altering moves - if RAS isn't a Phillie, does his son become one - or, ultimately their GM?)  The highlight of Essegian's career may be his two pinch-hit home runs for the Dodgers in the 1959 World Series.

Curt Simmons - Phillies Wall of Fame

I started this project during last summer's Alumni Weekend - though, it was way too crowded to get very far.  I was lucky enough to add Charlie Manuel and Bob Boone.  Surprisingly, many of the living WoFers are also good TTM signers and I think I can significantly alter the look of this photo with some effort. 

As far as TTM signers go, Whiz Kid Curt Simmons is a Hall of Famer.  According to recorded results in Sports Collector Net's database, collectors have been successful on 99% of their requests - with an amazing 482 reported successes over the years!

R.I.P - Hobby Heroes, Alvin Dark and Jackie Mayo

I was saddened to hear about the recent passing of two friends to the hobby: Former Phillies, Alvin Dark (11/13) and Jack Mayo (8/19).  While neither had overly distinguished careers in Philadelphia, both were notable to Phillies collectors due to their kindness in regards to fulfilling autograph requests through the mail.

Dark, the 1948 Rookie of the Year, had a solid career, as both player and manager - and measures up as one of the best shortstops of his era.  Known as "The Swamp Fox", Dark played 55 games for the terrible 1960 Phillies.  After retiring from baseball, he became a successful manager, winning a pennant with the 1962 Giants and the World Series in 1974 (Oakland).  I wrote to Mr. Dark several times over the years, requesting autographs for various Phillies-themed projects.  Though his writing seemed labored, he always responded promptly, including a small testimonial brochure.  His 90% success rate on SCN proves I was not alone.

Jack Mayo was one of the few surviving members of the legendary 1950 Whiz Kids.  Playing in 139 games across six seasons with the Phillies (1948-1953), he appeared in three World Series games against the Yankees in 1950, reaching base on a walk his only plate appearance.  As with Dark, I corresponded with him over the years, too - collecting autographs on various Whiz Kids projects.  In one letter I mentioned that World Series walk to Mr. Mayo, which prompted a hand-written response in the margin: "It was a thrill!"  He recorded an impressive 88% TTM success rate, "thrilling" many collectors in the process.

Phillies TTM: Longest Wait Ever

I received a surprise earlier this week when a TTM success from Manny Trillo showed up in my mailbox.  Sent July 26, 2010, the request was assumed a lost cause long ago, and forgotten. - it is now my "longest wait ever"...

I sent the request c/o The White Sox while Trillo was still working for the team.  The return was postmarked from Orlando, but I have not heard what (if any) team he is currently affiliated with.  In between sending the card and today, I had a chance to meet Trillo at a Poppel show.  I told him I had been waiting a long time to meet him, and that he should come back more often.  He answered, "I've been around.  You just need to know where to look!"  


Through the Mail Update

Mack Burk

I have been sending around this picture of Connie Mack Stadium to guys who played for the Phillies during the 1950s for a few years now.  I started with the living "Whiz Kids" and continued from there.  The success with Burk (1956-58) makes signature number 17 from "the 1950s-era" on the piece.  There are still a few more guys I want to mail to - but, this one is almost ready for the wall...

Herm Starrette 

Hearing news that this former Phillies pitching coach was signing again (for a $5 donation) encouraged me to pick up the 1980 team photo project again.  Starrette was one of the few missing pieces.  Unfortunately, he has been ill - but, from the hand-written note he included in the reply, it seemed like he appreciated the letter.  

Through the Mail: Getting Back on the Horse

Much of the reason for starting this blog was rooted in my desire to share TTM successes - and over the years, I've shared a lot!  If you have been reading since those early years you may wonder why I haven't shared many of my returns recently - honest answer: there hasn't been much to share.  

Like many collectors, my engagement in TTM comes in waves.  There have been months when I've sent 20-30 requests, and then there have been those (like the past 4-5) when I might send two or three.  I would probably be more consistent throughout the year if I stayed away from those extreme peaks!  Either way, I'm back on the upswing and have a few new successes to share:

Justin DeFratus

I'm officially on the board with Spring Training successes after receiving this one back.  Interestingly, a few days after getting this card back, I also received the card I send LAST year back (signed).  Wonder where it was stored all this time...

Danny Cater

I am still working on getting these 1964 Bulletin inserts signed.  With this success from Cater I am now up to 19/27!  Please let me know if you know anyone who has a Callison or Mauch they want to sell...

Ron Hextall

Don't be surprised... I send out to Phillies, Eagles and Flyers!  Of late I've been working on getting this team set ('90-'91 Topps) signed.  This was a quick turnaround via The Flyers, with a "Best Wishes" inscription! 

A Letter From Fregosi


Former Phillies manager Jim Fregosi passed away suddenly last week after suffering a stroke.  Fregosi, a six-time All Star player, skippered the Phils from 1991 through 1996, winning the National League Championship in 1993.  His tenure corresponded with the height of my childhood fandom, and I clearly remember both the day he was hired, as well as the day he was fired.  

Since retiring from on-field duty, Fregosi had been a great friend to the collecting hobby, providing autographs via TTM on request.  Over the years, he had been very generous to me personally, signing many items including team balls which were missing his autograph.  Inspired by one of my favorite blogs, "Baseball by the Letters", I once sent him a set of questions related to his experiences with the Phillies - which, he promptly responded to with insight and humor.  As we reflect on his life, I thought I would share those questions/responses...

Question 1:

The core set of players had been together for a couple years going into 1993.  What do you think was the key to success that season?

Answer: Health!  And, the additions of Jim Eisenreich and Milt Thompson were the difference makers.

Question 2: 

Is there a single moment of the 1993 season that stands out as your greatest memory?

Answer: Mariano Duncan's grand slam (on Mother's Day, off Lee Smith)

Question 3:

How was the Vet as both a player and manager?  Did you enjoy hitting there?

Answer: Conditions at the Vet were terrible - with rats bigger than Dykstra!

Phillies TTM: Who's Signing

I don't generally do themes for these TTM posts, but based on recent successes, one jumped out at me: Guys With Short Phillies Careers, and Long TTM Response Times.  OK, maybe it needs a little work, but you get the idea.  Here are some recent responses from guys who have great success track records...

Doug Jones


Jones stepped in to close for the Phils after Mitch Williams was run out of town... er, moved to Houston following the 1993 season. His short career in red pinstripes was successful, as he saved 27 games and earned a spot on the NL All-Star team.  He is a good signer through the mail, but does tend to build up a stack before responding, so be prepared to wait if you write...

129 East Navilla Place  Covina, CA 91723

Bruce Chen

After coming to the Phillies in the Andy Ashby trade, Chen pitched in parts of the 2000 and 2001 seasons.  Throughout his career he has been a reliable signer in care of his home club.  The rash of returns he recently registered were sent during the season.  Keep an eye on where he lands this off-season, and try him in camp again next Spring.

Photo via Amazon.com

Photo via Amazon.com

Larry McWilliams

I can vividly remember seeing McWilliams pitch for the Phils during the 1989 season - and continued mimicking the odd delivery in our driveway games the rest of the summer.  (Sounds like the makings of a nice little request letter...) Similar to Jones and Chen, he seems to wait until he has a nice pile, but generally comes through with a successful request...

4102 Beckley Court  Colleyville, TX 76034

For more Phillies TTM addresses, check out our TTM database...

Phillies TTM: Who's Signing

It has been a week or two, but with a little time on my hands thought I could check in on the TTM world...

Pete Rose 

Pete Rose signed card

Pete Rose signed card

Charlie Hustle is a hot/cold TTM signer.  It has been about a year and a half since he was actively signing, but it seems like the door is open again.  $35 fee for balls and flats 8x10 and smaller.  If you need him on any projects, it's a great opportunity to add for a reduced price.  Don't delay...

If you write: c/o Hit King, Inc  5668 Ness Avenue  Las Vegas, NV 89118

Bill Giles

Here is an interesting one... I have never gotten into collecting the autographs of front office members, but few in Phillies history have played as important role as Giles.  Whether you like him or not, his influence has been felt in Philly for decades.  If you're into the "unique", you might want to drop him a line.

If you write: c/o The Phillies  Citizens Bank Park  One Citizens Bank Way Philadelphia, PA 19148

Charles Hudson signed card

Charles Hudson signed card

Charles Hudson

If this were 1983, we would be talking about the promising future of young fireballer, Charles Hudson.  Of course, it's 30 years later, so... I have successfully written to Hudson in the past at this address, and will likely be sending to him again (soon) to continue work on my 1983 team photo.  

If you write: P.O. Box 368  Oakwood, TX 75855

For more Phillies TTM addresses, check out our TTM database...

Success! Finally, an AFL TTM Return...

Ken Giles signed photo

Ken Giles signed photo

Last month I wrote about the endless opportunities that the Arizona Fall League affords TTMers.  Shortly after publishing the post I sent requests out to several Phillies minor leaguers prospects participating in the League.  

With AFL play winding down, and no returns to my name, I had just about written this year off as a loss.  All that changed today as I finally logged my first success - fireballer, Ken Giles.   Though he is not widely included in Phillies top prospect lists, Giles opened a lot of eyes this Fall - much like Cody Asche did last year...