There's a lot to unpack here. Let's start with the month's autographs.
IP: Toby Harrah at a card show in Arlington
Wayne Gross (may be using a ghost-signer...)
Something to Address
This week I stepped down from the Administrator position of the main Facebook group I was running. I was already planning to leave the position at the end of the year, but my timeline for it has moved up. My attorney has advised me not to comment further. The group has been left in highly-trusted hands and I believe Craig and Josh are more than capable as Administrators.
Among all of this, I spoke to a person regarding a known forger that I continuously try to flush out whenever his head pops up in the hobby. He expressed that the forger wants to go about making things right with the autograph community, but that constant exposure has left him unwilling and fearful of doing so. That seems to be a pretty flimsy excuse to me, but okay.
So look off to the right of the page: my lengthy warning about him is gone, leaving only links to other pages that warn about bad traders. It's been eight years, and even items on a credit report only last seven. If that's what's keeping him from stepping up and making amends, my contribution to that hurdle is now gone.
Your move, Mr. Miller. Here's your chance to do the right thing.
TGC: The Series Finale
Lastly, after seven and a half years of writing, nearly 250 posts, and over 67,000 views, I believe this will be the final post I make on this blog. When I started it in 2013, I was excited to have a place to write every few days about my doings in the autograph world: the good/bad/ugly of in-person outings, TTM successes and failures, interview profiles of other collector friends, and really anything else that came to mind. I was about to return to a hobby I greatly enjoyed in a way that I hadn't been able to do since 2005 and I wanted to go all-in.
In that first year I was typically putting up multiple posts a week. For the last couple of years, it's been one a month. In 2015 and 2016 I was getting hundreds of reads per post within hours of posting. My latest one got 8 in six days. I'll be shocked if even fifty read this in a month. Print-only media is dying. Blogging isn't what it used to be, at least not on a larger platform without loads of links and non-text content. Microblogging, sub-300-character tweets, images, and videos have taken control, as we are first-hand witnesses to the phenomenon of our attention spans growing shorter but our lives growing longer. To quote my wife's favorite musician Kacey Musgraves, "Mary Mary quite contrary, we're so bored until we're buried." We as a culture have grown tired of any information that's larger than bite-sized and not entertaining enough. It's why the insultpolitik of Donald Trump & Co. is effective now after it spent decades failing: it's memorable, quick, to the point, and provokes immediate visceral reaction. Riding it to victory proves that the end justifies the means in American culture. Talking about the important things-- policies, plans, ideas-- at length gets boring and forgotten even though it's the meat of the future.
It's easier to have daily (or near-daily) updates elsewhere. So that's what I'm going to do.
Over the last few years especially while leading a Facebook group, I've had to endure doxxing, accusations of playing favorites, threats of litigation, use of my life and views outside the hobby as ammunition against me, threats of violence, and more "F you, Stalin" type of messages in my inbox than you can possibly imagine. I even had someone make ridiculous accusations of me showing up at his friend's job and getting him fired via a sexual assault claim-- either a case of recklessly mistaking my identity for someone else or an attempt at a completely fabricated hatchet job against me. It has gotten to a point where especially over the last two months I have had to ask myself numerous times if it is really worth waking up and wondering what sort of crap I'm going to end up taking from people. And all of this over a personal autograph collection!
I've hit a point where I feel like I can't make fair criticism and raise concerns without significant fear of overly-strong retribution. I'm even sitting here wondering who's going to take offense to this as I write it. Welcome to journalism in a post-Trump world.
Trying to put yourself out there to be a force for positive feels great until it turns on you. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Trying to constantly fight against me-first hobby negativity and unethical acts has led me to bordering upon paranoia about deciphering the meaning behind people's actions and words. I don't particularly enjoy that. I always joked I'd have a heart attack by 40 but this week has made me think it might not be a joke. The victories in this pro-hobbyist battle are largely Pyrrhic.
It's weird to call Twitter and YouTube positive places but in the autograph hobby they are so far. None of them have the cobwebs of a mostly-text blog. Disagreements I've had with people on YouTube have remained remarkably civil discussions of opinion; via Twitter I'm trying to avoid and unfollow accounts that are not 100% about the hobby; whereas the Facebook flareups I've seen and been involved in get out of hand quickly, and if I lay the hammer down from a position of authority I'm automatically the bad guy. Enough already! I've been banned from groups and accept that I probably deserved it when it happens. Many people I've dealt with while working with similar situations from the other side refuse to ever make that concession. The old "They hate us 'cause they ain't us" line is a load of crap: they probably hate you because you're an ass.
I've tried to be a positive in the autograph hobby. I want to keep out those who would do it harm, reduce the number of those who act solely with self in mind, and educate newcomers wherever possible. My favorite phrase is "The overall health of the hobby is more important than the size of your collection." And I truly believe that, for the size of your collection won't matter if the hobby is dead or at least unattainable for most.
And the number of positive comments I got from people about the effort I put in for so long following my decision to step down from the Facebook group is evidence to me that at least my intentions have been understood and appreciated. In fact, I have not had a single negative one put to me directly from it, and that means a lot in something that has largely been a thankless job for four years. You're never going to please everyone, so all you can really focus on are those who are important to you and those who appreciate your efforts.
If a hobby is getting to where it's not as fun for you anymore, you have to ask why you're trying to preserve it for others at such a cost to yourself. I already lost all enjoyment in my previous sports broadcasting career, something that has just now started to come back after leaving it for most of a decade. I haven't hit the point I did when I left it, but I want to stop any potential skid before it hits that crash point: I don't want to have my preferred avocation completely ruined for me too.
Every collecting world seems to hit a point of unsustainable growth. How many booms and busts can you name? You had the sports card boom of the 80s and early 90s where every product had cards and every town had multiple card shops, followed by its bust in the late 90s as overproduction brought about a diluted market; Beanie Babies had their boom in the late 90s that went bust just as fast; comic books, antiques, stamps, coins, toy fads... Even each of these areas has their own internal mini-booms and busts-- Kevin Maas, anyone? Cards are seeing a crazy boom again as well: how long will it last?
We're seeing a huge bubble happen in the autograph world in terms of participation. When I came down to DFW in 2013, Rangers games had a dedicated group of maybe 20-30 collectors at the average game. I knew most of them by name quickly and we helped each other out. The last game I was at, there had to have been over a hundred, and the only ones I recognized were a few I didn't like much. When I went to an Angels-Indians game in 2018, I didn't bother graphing and I'm glad I didn't: watching from a distance, the group was ten-deep all the way down the fence. The minor leagues are getting overrun by prospectors. People who had never TTMed before or hadn't in years are getting back into it during pandemic boredom. Players are getting swamped with mail to where many excellent free signers have stopped (Rick Reuschel) or are charging fees (Jerry Browne and Tom Brunansky), and many who already charged small fees are raising those (Bob Grich). While it has brought a few tough signers out of the woodwork (Harold Baines), is it worth the cost of losing so many others? A comment from a person helping to go through five years of Dave Stieb's mail mentioned that he has gotten numerous requests of 8 or more cards, some with lazily copied letters with another player's name crossed off and his written in, return envelopes with no postage (perhaps even no envelope at all), and even one person that requested a heap of both cards and index cards with specific inscriptions requested on each with no compensation-- and sent it twice. Billy Sample said he now tends to get an average of five requests a day whereas a decade ago, it was maybe five a week.
You may not care since you already got Reuschel, Browne, Brunansky, and Grich, or you're okay with paying for the latter trio, but what about a newcomer to to the hobby? What about a kid who loves baseball history but whose $10 a week allowance would take him almost a month to get Grich? They no longer have that ability. And someday you might end up in their shoes and miss out on someone who stops because it's gotten to be too voluminous, or whose fee is through the roof. This is why I think fighting to limit hobby greed is such an important enterprise. The hobby should be accessible to all who want to participate. Think before you act out of self-interest.
Unfortunately, there will always be those who care about the monetary profit more than the hobby enjoyment, and those types will be its downfall. Collectors who go in with profit in mind first tend to have a problem with self-control when it comes to milking their newfound cash cow, much to the hobby's detriment. It's the same with riding any other boom to (or past) its bust point.
Even non-monetary gains: do you really need 20 cards a year signed by Rick Reuschel, Frank Tanana, Danny Darwin, Charlie Hough, and Tom Foley? I've sent to Tanana twice in my life. I probably have another 50 cards of him sitting here. I have no desire or need to mail out even 1/10th of them. I gave four to a friend to mail off. If someone else wanted a few, I'd give to them too.
I know I'm not going to reach every collector with my reasoning, nor am I trying to be the autograph police, nor do I think I'm going to somehow spark a worldwide change (no matter how many times people try to strawman that those delusions of grandeur are somehow my goals). All I've ever wanted to do is whatever is within my grasp to help keep the hobby civilized and thriving. Think globally but act locally; be the change you want to see in the world; we not me; you know the cliches.
So, I'm scaling back. I'm focusing on my own collection and on continuing to practice those ethics myself. And that's going to mean less public involvement and leadership. If you get anything out of this (besides off my lawn), I hope it's heeding my request to exert self-control. Take those ten cards you want to send and pare it back to four.
Thanks for reading Texas Graphing Chronicles. As the great Hal Lebovitz used to sign off: "Stay well, and see you somewhere, I hope."