Monday, June 29, 2009

Third Time is a Charm?

Last Friday a received a signed baseball card from Andre Dawson. Mr. Dawson was the 1987 NL MVP and is a borderline HOFer. What interested me about this return is that it took me 3 tries to get Mr. Dawson to sign a card for me. Since starting to collect autographs via ttm (through the mail) I have seen people getting returns from Mr. Dawson. I liked Andre Dawson, so I sent to him and got no response. I waited about eight months while dozens of folks kept getting a response for him, many only having to wait a couple weeks for a return. I decided to send to Mr. Dawson again, and got no response again. Finally I sent a third time, and he signed one of two cards for me. I appreciate that Mr. Dawson sign a card for me, but I wonder what happen to the cards I sent to him before.

This is not an issue exclusive to Andre Dawson. I had to send to future Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, former All-Star Will Clark, and former Twin Dan Schatzader three times each in order to get a response from them. Mr. Schatzader sent back (signed) all the cards I had sent him over the years, while Mr. Larkin and Mr. Clark signed and returned only the last card I had sent them.

Why did it take three times to get a response? What happened to the other cards I sent? Were they lost? Did the player simply decide he did not want to send them back? Did the player just arbitrarily decide to sign for certain people and not others? I don’t know the answer, but what I do know is perseverance pays off.

Fernando Valenzuela, Geoff Zahn, Dale Murphy, Don Mattingly, and Don Sutton have refused to sign for me the first two times I have sent to them. I have seen many returns from Mr. Valenzuela, but not from Mr. Zahn, Mr. Murphy, Mr. Mattingly, and Mr. Sutton. Therefore I will be sending to Mr. Valenzuela a third time, while waiting on the others.

Why wait on the others? I have seen few if any returns from them lately. Mr. Mattingly is currently coaching while Mr. Sutton is doing some broadcasting. They just may be holding on to their mail while they work through the summer, and then they will return the cards in the offseason. It is unwise to flood a player with multiple autograph requests as they may think you are trying to take advantage of their generosity. At the same time though, if others keep getting responses from players and you don’t then it might be wise to try again. You never know what happened to your first one or two attempts. The cards may never even have reached the player. I try to wait 6-9 months before resending.

Of course I would prefer to have the player respond the first time I send to them. Having to buy multiple cards and stamps can get a little pricey. One way to ensure success the first time, especially with more famous players, is to drop them a little cash donation. Some Hall of Fame players have foundations, and if you donate to those foundations you are ensured a return.

HOFer Gary Carter has a foundation which I sent a donation to. I expected it would take 3 or 4 weeks to receive my signed card, but such was not the case. Instead a week later I had the card signed beautiful by Mr. Carter. He also sent me a typed note of thanks on which crossed out Dear Fan and instead wrote my name.

Nolan Ryan has a foundation too. He notes it will take 12 to 16 weeks to have a return from him, but you will get a return. I will be waiting eagerly as I have sent a donation to Mr. Ryan as well.

Mr. Carter and Mr. Ryan are using the fame to him help others. I have no problem donating to a player’s foundation in exchange for an autograph. Tim Raines, Dave Winfield, Frank Viola, and Harmon Killebrew are the baseball players whose foundations have received small donations from me. In return I have received wonderful signed cards. Funny, if you donate to their foundations, a player’s signs your card a lot nicer. Yet another reason to research a player’s signing habits.

Of course some players want donations for signing and the donation goes directly into their bank account. Steve Carlton, Phil Niekro, Brooks Robinson, Bob Feller, Al Kaline, Rollie Fingers, and Whitey Ford are the baseball players who I have “donated” to. All have been fairly reasonably priced ($10-$20). However some folks want a little more. Check out some of these prices to sign a baseball card:

Willie Mays $300
Rickey Henderson $140
Cal Ripkan $140
Frank Robinson $90
Tony Gwynn $85
Eddie Murray $85
Robin Yount $85
Willie McCovey $85
Reggie Jackson $75
Yogi Berra $70

Ouch! I loved getting HOFers to sign my cards, but those prices are just too high. I am going to be investing $40+ each on getting Mike Schmidt and Tom Seaver to sign for me, but that is about all the farther I am willing to go. I figure that Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Seaver will soon be charging in the $70-$100 as well, so I am getting them now while they are still somewhat reasonably priced.

Of course there is one way to beat paying those high prices. It is called “fine someone willing to sell you a certified autographed card for less”. Certified autographed cards are baseball cards signed by a player and then included in a random pack of baseball cards that sold at the store. There are usually very few of these cards, so you are one lucky person when get to open a pack of cards and find one of these certified autographed card. Most certified cards are of current players, but there are a few Hall of Famers out there too.

In 1995 Reggie Jackson signed a few such cards for Upper Deck who then included them in random packs of their cards. I found one of these cards at Twin Cities Sports Collector Club (TCSCC) show with a certificate of authenticity for $40. So I could pay $40 for certified autographed card of Reggie Jackson with a certificate of authenticity guaranteed by one of the large baseball card companies, or I can could send $75 to Reggie Jackson and hope he signs and returns my card in six months or so, or I could send $75 to a company that stages signing by folks like Reggie; include an extra $5 for a certificate of authenticity plus $5 mail order fee plus $10 for shipping for a total price of $95.

Let’s see $40 or $75 to $95. To me that choice was obvious which is why the certified autographed Reggie Jackson card is now sitting in my display case at home with the extra money I saved going to Mike Schmidt. I can now get two signed cards for roughly the amount I would have had to pay Reggie Jackson.

The moral of the story is show perseverance when trying to get a player, “donate” to a player's foundation if you want to guarantee a return, and if you find a players signing fee to high, look for a certified autographed card.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Twins Autograph Party

I attended the Minnesota Twins autograph party on Saturday. At the autograph party you pay one fee, all current players sign at the same time, and you are allowed to get autographs from as many players as you can in the hour and half they are signing.

In reality you either get an autograph from Joe Mauer or Justin Morneau or everyone else. I arrived at 8:30 a.m. to get in the Justin Morneau line. Morneau was scheduled to sign from 12:30-2:00. I got through the Morneau line with 10 minutes to spare. Yes, the line was so long that even arriving 4 hours early I barely made it through the line.

I knew this would likely be the case. In 2006 I spent all my time in the Johan Santana line to get him to sign a baseball. However in 2008 I avoided the Mauer and Morneau lines and was able to get 12 other players. It is an either or thing. Either you get Mauer, or you get Morneau, or you get a lot of the other players.

I wanted Justin to sign his 2007 Allen & Ginter's baseball card for me. He did so, and it looks great in my display case.

I like the Allen & Ginter's cards because they do have glossy coating that most Topps and Upper Deck cards have. The coating can sometimes cause smearing or create air bubbles in the player’s signature making the signature look bad. You can try “rubbing” the card down, but that does not always work.

For the record hitting coach Joe Vara was assigned the thankless task of signing with Morneau. Many people ignored Mr. Vara, but I did not as I needed him for my collection.

There are no Mr. Vara baseball cards that I know of, so I did had him sign a baseball card for the new Twins stadium.

Not able to get any more current Twins, I prepared to get some of the former Twins who were signing from 2:30-4. The Twins bring in the same former players every year. Why? Who knows for sure, but maybe they don’t want to pay too much in traveling expenses as the only guys they bring in from out of town are Harmon Killebrew and Rod Carew.

With few new options available, I went with Rod Carew and Tom Kelly. Rod signed a 78 Topps baseball card for me, Tom an 87 Topps card. I had a few extra minutes so I went into the Roy Smalley, Tim Launder, and Ron Coomer line. I did not have a Coomer card, but a kind gentleman gave me one of his, so I was able to get all three players.

It was very hot day at the autograph party, but it beats getting rained on. All in all I had a good time, and look forward to attending next year.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Class of 89 - Alan Jackson

In honor of the 20th anniversary of debut of Country Music Class of 89, I am writing a series of posts on each of the artists. I am including those artists who debuted in 1989 – Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Travis Tritt, and Mary Chapin Carpenter. I am also including artists – Vince Gill and Lorrie Morgan – who had their first true commercial impact in 1989.

Here is my final write up on the members of the Class of 89. It will be on Alan Jackson.

Alan Jackson is my favorite music artist. I consider him the greatest country music singer – songwriter of all-time. I have seen Alan Jackson in concert 7 times. I have written to Alan twice. I bought an autographed Alan Jackson 8x10 from his fan club. I created a baseball card of Alan Jackson and sent it to him asking him to sign it. He did so, even personalizing it to me. I display that signed card at the center of my baseball card display case surrounding it with signed baseball cards from baseball Hall of Famers. Needless to say I own all of Alan’s albums.

What is amazing is that I was not an immediate convert to Alan Jackson’s music. My parents always listened to country music. I tried to escape country by listening to pop and rock in the 80’s, but the folks kept me tune into country part-time. The Judds, Dwight Yoakam, Hank Williams Jr. brought me back full-time to country music in late 80’s.

Garth Brooks and Mary Chapin Carpenter were the first Class of 89ers I was into. Then suddenly I became an Alan Jackson fan. In a way that seemed to be how Alan Jackson emerged in the country music world. He did not get off to a fast start, but once he got going he enveloped the whole country music world.

Alan Jackson’s first single “Blue Blooded Woman” stiffed on the charts in 1989. His second single “Here in the Real World” went to # 3 and started string of top 10 and #1 hits. Still between 1990-1992 it always seemed like some other artists like Clint Black, Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, Billy Ray Cyrus, Vince Gill, or Brooks & Dunn were the “it” artist. The media and country music industry always seemed to want someone else to be the superstar. Alan Jackson was a star, but not a superstar.

That changed in the summer of 1993 as Alan massive career hit “Chattahoochee” dominated the airwaves and its then cutting edge music video (Alan water skis in the video) was all over the television. Chattahoochee made Alan Jackson a super-star, won him awards, increased his profile on the radio, and spurred on his album and concert ticket sales.

“A lot About Livin’ (And a Little ‘Bout Love” the album from which “Chattahoochee” was from would end up selling 6 million copies. Alan would only the fourth artist in country music history to have an album sell six million copies (Garth, Billy Ray Cyrus, and Pasty Cline were the first three). By 1994 only Garth Brooks was bigger than Alan in the world of country music.

I first saw Alan Jackson in concert in 1994 at the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand in the midst of this Alan mania. I took my parents. We had never attended an outdoor country music concert. Our seats were off to the side, but along with 20,000 plus new found friends we had a great time. When Alan closed with “Chattahoochee” the place rocked. Young, old, male, female, Alan’s audience
spanned generational and gender boundaries.

The next year (1995) Alan returned to same venue and an even bigger crowd was even more ruckus. A newer artist named Faith Hill opened for Alan. Alan Jackson was on top of the world and later that year he would win CMA Entertainer of the Year, and his “The Greatest Hits Collection” would be released and sell over 6 million copies.

I saw him again in 1996. Alan was just off headlining the most attended one day concert in country music history. Alan along with Alabama, Hank Williams Jr, Charlie Daniels, Patty Loveless, Pam Tillis, Tracy Bryd, LeRoy Parnell, and some relative unknown named Kenny Cheseny had jammed at the Fruit of the Loom All-Star Country Fest concert in Atlanta, GA along 250,000 fans. The event was taped and later televised.

By 1998 when Alan Jackson showed up at the Target Center in Minneapolis with hot newcomer Deana Carter I noticed a problem. His crowds were getting smaller. I saw him again in 1999 and 2000. The later concert with newcomer Brad Paisley opening drew only 4,000 people. My seat was just scant yards from the stage. While it was great to be so close, I was getting the feeling I would not be seeing
Alan in such a larger venue again.

Alan’s album sales had gone from 6 million to just over 1 million. He was still getting good play on radio, but his concert attendance across the country was dropping. He was not getting nominated for as many awards as he had in the past.

Alan was still making history like at 1999 CMA Awards where he interrupted his own performance to perform George Jones “Choices” as protest to an insult Jones suffered at the CMA’s hands. In 2000 Alan and George Strait recorded “Murder on Music Row” a song that decried the current state of country music. The song caused controversy, but won CMA Song and Vocal Event of the Year Awards. History making though was only slowing the inevitable decline every country artist not named George Strait seems to go through.

Then at the 2001 CMA Awards where Alan performed for the first time a song he had just written called “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning”. The song about the 9/11 terrorist attacks sparked an immediate and emotional reaction. The song quickly went #1. “Drive” the album “Where Were You…” was on went on to sell 4 million copies and would win CMA and ACM Album of the Year. Alan even became the first country artist to grace the cover of the popular magazine Entertainment Weekly.

Alan would earn a record setting 10 nominations for the 2002 CMA awards. That night Alan would win a record tying 5 CMA Awards. Alan would be the only person to win Entertainer, Male Vocalist, Album, Single, and Song of the Year on the same night. “Where Were You…” would become CMA and ACM Single and Song of the Year.

Alan Jackson had returned to superstardom. More major hits like “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” and “Remember When” would follow. Alan would also raised his artistic creed by making cutting edge album like his “Precious Memories” and “Like Red On a Rose” albums.

The last time I saw Alan Jackson in concert was 2004 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. 15,000 plus joined Alan and enjoyed a great night of country music. Alan Jackson has sold over 42 million albums, scored 25 #1 and 48 top 10 singles. He has won 16 CMA and 14 ACM awards. Yet what struck me that night in 2004 was the crowd. Like the 1994 crowd there were young people, old people, men and women. Alan Jackson was no longer young and hip, his hair was shorter, he had put on a few pounds, and yet his was able to still span generational and gender boundaries. Alan Jackson had gone beyond superstardom. He was now a superstar who had become an iconic legend.

Picking one video of Alan Jackson was almost impossible. YouTube has a lot of his videos. Alan even has his own video channel, but like all major artists on YouTube those videos have the embedding option turned off, so I cannot embed them here.

In an earlier post on this blog, I posted a video of Alan performing live my favorite Alan song “Chasin That Neon Rainbow”. You can check it out, by clicking the name Alan Jackson over on the right.

Here is the video for “Chattahoochee” provided by CMT. Yes, that is really Alan Jackson watering skiing while wearing a cowboy hat. This video is considered one of the most popular country music videos of all-time.

Class of 89 - Garth Brooks

In honor of the 20th anniversary of debut of Country Music Class of 89, I am writing a series of posts on each of the artists. I am including those artists who debuted in 1989 – Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Travis Tritt, and Mary Chapin Carpenter. I am also including artists – Vince Gill and Lorrie Morgan – who had their first true commercial impact in 1989.

Decided to do two post today. This post will be on Garth Brooks.

Garth Brooks seems like a complicated figure, but he is not. Garth Brooks is simply a performer. He is not a singer or a songwriter though those are part of his performer makeup. He is an artist, but he is a performance artist not a music artist. Garth Brooks is all about the performance – not just when performs music in concert, but when he holds a news conference, makes an appearance, or even seems to go into retirement.

When Garth debuted in 1989 he seemed an unlikely success story. But by the time his back to back career hits “The Dance” and “Friends in Low Places” had finished their runs at #1, he was more than a success story – he had altered how people perceived country music.

A truly great performer needs to command a stage. Garth Brooks commanded the stage. Whether he was singing alone with nothing but a guitar before a rapt audience of 50,000 or swinging from ropes above the same 50,000, Garth commanded attention. Garth had the ability to make even the person in the last row feel like they was part of the performance. Garth insisted they be part of his performance.

In 1996 Garth did not just sign autographs for people at Country Music’s Fan Fair for a couple of hours. He signed till everyone who wanted one got one even if it meant staying 23 straight hours. He was a performer; he could let the audience down. When he arrived for that autograph signing he did not come in limo with body guards. He drove his pickup truck right through the crowd then hopped out and walk right through the crowd which parted before him, awe at the sight of this superstar who seemed to be so real yet to transcendent.

I was always impressed to see when he won an award that was presented to him by a female he would remove his cowboy hat from his head. He was ever the gentleman, ever the heroic figure in the performance.

This is what people missed about Garth Brooks. It was never about his supposed rock concert performances. Other country artists before him (Hank Williams Jr.) and after him (Brooks & Dunn, Shania Twain, others) have performed rock like concerts, but they lack the mythos of Garth. Garth the heroic figure in the center of a never ending performance – the performance is not about the music, but the man. Garth is the performance, the songs are about him. He is the central figure in a never ending opera that continues on from the concert stage. His fans clung to his saga making it their own.

Garth climbed to the highest peaks; he sold the most albums, won the biggest awards, had the highest rated television specials a country artist ever had, brought country music to its highest heights. Yet once you get to the top you have to come down. Garth saw the drop coming, rode it out for awhile then decided the performance was over. He retired. Once in a while he comes out of retirement for brief moment back in the spotlight, but it is not the same. The audience is not what it once was.

Garth Brooks made country music better, he made it worse. He exposed country music to new audience made it new fans. He destroyed country music by making it too commercial; driving his successors to make it more like pop music in order to make it sell like Garth’s sold.

I like Garth Brooks’ singing. He has a great voice. I like “Much Too Young (To be This Damn Old)”, “The Dance”, “Friends in Low Places” and “The Thunder Rolls”; but since his second album “No Fences” his music has been ordinary. Garth simply became too much about Garth and not enough about the music. Too bad really Garth could have made some interesting and bold albums. Instead his only real attempt at doing something different he created an alter ego name Chris Gaines. Maybe Garth Brooks felt it would be anti-heroic to put out something other than was expected of him. If so, I think he was wrong.

Garth Brooks does not allow his music videos on YouTube or any other video site. Even CMT is not allowed to have any. Garth does not let his music on itunes. Instead Garth keeps his music only available on his album. He releases compilation albums of his old hits and include 3 or 4 new songs on them. Maybe it is his way of ensure good albums sales. Whatever his reasons, I think it is a mistake. He should allow fans to views his video; hear his songs on the Web. He might be surprise, people might really enjoy the performance.

Class of 89 - Lorrie Morgan

In honor of the 20th anniversary of debut of Country Music Class of 89, I am writing a series of posts on each of the artists. I am including those artists who debuted in 1989 – Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Clint Black, Travis Tritt, and Mary Chapin Carpenter. I am also including artists – Vince Gill and Lorrie Morgan – who had their first true commercial impact in 1989.

Today’s post will be on Lorrie Morgan.

Long before Shania Twain starting running around with a base midriff, Lorrie Morgan was a
country music babe. Lorrie Morgan played up her good looks more than most country female counterparts, and it helped her career take off.

Lorrie most brazen attempt to use her sex appeal was her video for “We Both Walk” where she spends a good deal of time playing her guitar with nothing on but a man’s dress shirt. Though the video would seem pretty tame by today’s standards at the time in country music world the video was seen as to risqué. Lorrie took heat for being to sexual.

Ironically in the mid to late 80’s Lorrie Morgan was not a candidate for such criticism. Lorrie was a child of traditional country music. Her father George Morgan had been a country star. As Lorrie Morgan struggled to get a footing on country radio in the e 80’s, she married raising country music star Keith Whitley. Morgan assumed the life of a proper daughter and wife. Then her relationship began to affect her life and career.

Keith Whitely drank to often, and by 1989 he had died of an overdose. Whitley’s death caused his widow Lorrie to see her profile rise. In 1989 she finally started scoring hits on country radio. Her 1989 album “Leave the Light On” caught the wave of success generated by the Country’s Music Class of 89. She rose to stardom with the debut single from her 1991 cd “Something in Red”. That single would be the aforementioned “We Both Walk” which rose to #3 and spawned a video that (as mentioned earlier) raised eyebrows.

Lorrie scored more hits and “Something in Red” sold 1 million copes as did its follow up “Watch Me”. Lorrie was developing a reputation as a platinum selling hit maker. Unfortunately she was also developing another reputation.

Being a good looking widow with money, Morgan attracted numerous male suitors. She dated then Dallas Cowboy quarterback Troy Aikman; famously bringing him to the 1993 ACM Awards where she wore an “attention grabbing” dress. When that relationship ended she married Clint Black’s bus driver whom she quickly divorced. This was just the beginning.

Lorrie Morgan was getting to be known as a woman who could not keep a man, or was it no man could keep Lorrie Morgan. Fans of country music in 90’s expected their country stars to behave themselves. The old days of drinking, partying, marrying and divorcing were over. Artists were expected to marry, and live straight and narrow lives. Those that failed to do so paid by losing fans.

Bad enough her personal life was being brought into question, but in 1994 Lorrie hit a career slump. Her 1994 album “War Paint” failed to produce a top ten hit, and “War Paint” sold only 500,000 copies. Lorrie briefly rebounded with her 2 million selling “Greatest Hits” album, but it was a downhill slid from there.

1995 brought the arrival of Shania Twain a woman who seized the mantel of country babe from Lorrie Morgan and quickly set a new standard for how country music females should look, sound and behave. It was a standard Lorrie Morgan seemed unable to follow.

In 1997 Lorrie Morgan scored her last top 10 hit. By then she had become known for dating U.S. Senator and former actor Fred Thompson of Tennessee; for marrying and divorcing a younger male country singer named John Randall; and her stormy on and off again marriage and divorce from fellow country music star Sammy Kershaw.

In October 2008 news reports came out stating Lorrie Morgan had file for bankruptcy.

Lorrie Morgan had a solid run, but her personal life became bigger than her music and it cost her.

Personally I was never a big fan of her music. “We Both Walk” is my favorite Lorrie Morgan tune. She has a couple of other songs I don’t mind, but she never moved me in any way.

I could not find a video of “We Both Walk” on YouTube, but did find it on CMT’s site. You may have to watch a commercial first, but the video shows Lorrie Morgan as she was just about to become a star, and yes it show her playing her guitar in nothing but a man’s shirt.