Monday, December 31, 2007


In direct conflict to the popular myth that began sweeping across America in the mid 1980s, I’m here to tell you that baseball cards do not grow on trees. I suppose one might attempt the argument that trees are a necessary step in their production, but with recycling and the amazing things engineers are doing with plastics these days, you’d probably have to invest several bottles of Busch beer as part of the discussion before you would even get me to listen.

Heck, Topps has even been recycling their baseball card designs for years, apparently having run out of fresh ideas. And I’m not complaining either. Personally, I like the idea of reusing old card designs with modern players on them. I think it is a wonderful tribute to the original design(ers), and has somehow managed to introduce an element of fresh air into the trading card industry- not completely dissimilar to aerating the outfield grass in a 100-year-old ballpark.

Someone sent me an article several years ago about a fellow who used to work for Topps. He went on about how people he met thought it would be an amazing score- landing a job with a baseball card company, let alone the granddaddy of them all. However, in (his) reality, it turned out to be just another job. I didn’t buy it when I read the article, and I’m not convinced now.

As long as I can remember, I’ve always thought it would be super to be the person who designs cards, or takes the photos of the players that end up on cards, or sits in meetings and lobbies for things such as the immediate discontinuation of including stick of crap chewing gum with the cards. Perhaps if I had moved to New York after high school, enrolled in an art school, and began applying for internships with Topps 25 years ago, I would have ended up working for them. But I didn’t. Besides, maybe robots perform all the work there now.

I do still have the dream of one day having one of my photographs used on a baseball card. And it isn’t unusual for me to spend several hours during a winter evening working on a new baseball card design while listening to old Gordon Lightfoot tunes. I’ll hash out a design and print a couple copies to get autographed in the spring and to add to my portfolio in the event that anyone (any minor league baseball club, for instance) would ever give me an opportunity to design their team set.

Generally, the only people who see my work are the players featured on the cards and a few of the autograph collectors. I’ve decided that it can’t hurt for me to put some of my ideas online in the event that the right person needing that sort of service might happen by and give me a shot. Worst case, someone decides to flatter me by stealing my ideas.

So here’s my work in progress for my dream team set for the 2008 Albuquerque Isotopes:

The key element in my design includes LOTS of white real estate for player autographs. Another thing I’m trying to do is create a desire for the card collector to really think of the set as a team set, as opposed to a stack of cards of guys simply wearing the same uniform- a rare concept in the modern age of free agency when players move about from team to team with the frequency of migratory workers. My intention is that the image of the baseball stadium in the background will serve to force people to assemble the “puzzle,” and possibly even make them come up with interesting ways of displaying the set once they get all of the cards autographed.

Once the team sets their roster at the end of Spring Training, I will be able to decide which players I want to include in the final version. Until then, all I can really do is tweak the layout and do some research to find a printer willing to run a few sets for me at a reasonable rate. Maybe I’ll have my resume printed on the backs of the cards, and ship sets off to Topps, Just Minors, Upper Deck and MultiAd. At the very least, they are unique.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Lettie Watson Mize: an introduction

Way back when I used to do archaeology, one of the questions someone was always asking me was, “How do you know where to dig?” If I answered them honestly, I would reply, “If it was up to me, I sure as hell wouldn’t be digging here.” Of course an answer like that would require some explaining, and that would take time- something that was usually at least as precious as having enough water for the day while taking a pounding from the sun in the middle of the Sonoran desert.

The bottom line is that roughly 100 percent of every archaeological project I was ever paid to work on was driven by some pending construction project that had some level of governmental funding, and therefore required cultural resource studies to be completed. Ideally, those studies would be completed before the project got underway, but I think most of us here are adult enough to accept that we don’t live in a perfect world.

On the other hand, some of the “neatest” projects I ever worked on were done so on a volunteer basis. The kool thing about a volunteer project is that you are able to pick and choose the ones to invest your time and energies in. So if you think it sounds like a crackpot idea, not getting involved is always an option. Oddly enough, I can’t name a single historical project where I ever volunteered my help.

I guess that all changed for me when we bought our house in 2004 and I began wondering about the people who had lived here at different times over the past 100 years. Basic questions like “Who were they,” and “What sorts of things did they do?” Unfortunately, it seems that when you buy a house, a comprehensive listing of that sort thing isn’t included. Perhaps it should be. Then again, I quickly learned that the process of figuring out answers to my questions is as entertaining as it is challenging.

The initial challenge is deciding where, and how, to dig without a shovel. Armed with pencil, a notebook and the knowledge that our house was listed on the New Mexico State Register of Historic Places as the “Lettie Watson House,” I made my first of many walks to the historic records library. Once there, I set about going through all of the available* Albuquerque city directories published since 1904 and making a list of the names of people who lived in our house. (*Note: Not surprisingly, they don’t have city directories for every year, so my data was almost immediately compromised.) In addition to keeping track of the occupations of all the people who lived in the house, my database also included names and address for anyone named Watson or Mize (Lettie’s eventual married name) to possibly assist with my long range plan of finding living descendants who might be able to provide old photographs of the house or people who lived in it over the decades.

This undertaking was going to take a considerable amount of time and dedication in order to make any progress, not to mention ample portions of good luck. Eventually I had pieced together enough information that I started to think of my database as the exterior portion of a jigsaw puzzle. You know, the pieces with one straight edge. To be sure, there were still some missing pieces, including a couple of the corners, but at least I had some firm lines to build upon.

From that information alone I was able to figure out that Lettie had lived in our house “pretty much” all the time from 1906 or 1907 through the mid 1950s. Her mother, Louise Watson, had lived here “more or less” all the time that same period until she passed away right before the Great Depression. Lettie had married a meat cutter named Isaac Mize, who used to work across the street from the school where Lettie had been employed as a teacher. (Yes, part of my research includes walkabouts so I can make observations of the actual structures and properties in order to better visualize the physical environment rather than trying to imagine it in my brain that is already stuffed with numbers and names and such.) I also had determined that Lettie and Isaac had at least one child named Henrietta, but that was pretty much the end of that source.

Eventually, additional investigative work led to my discovery of Lettie’s gravesite in a cemetery just a few miles north of the house. Her mother had been buried on one side, her husband on the other. A thorough search of the surrounding area failed to reveal her daughter’s grave, and I chose to think of that as a good sign that she had either moved away, or was still living. The possibility that she had married and produced children was the best-case scenario.

Although you might suspect that finding someone’s headstone would be somewhat of a dead end, it is in reality quite the opposite for a historian. Those grave markers actually provided key information that I needed to push forward- dates of death. With that information, I was able to quickly locate appropriate obituaries by accessing copies of old newspapers on microfilm at the library. Without those dates, I wouldn’t even have attempted such a task.

There are some fantastic cemetery websites available to today’s historians. One that I am particularly fond of is called Find a Grave. I plan on supporting that site by adding the information I gather from this project, as well as posting photos I snap of random headstones. If I end up helping a single historian or genealogist on a future project even if by accident, then it is well worth the effort it takes to upload a few images.

It seems important to state that the discovery of these obituaries has led to the unearthing of a wealth of data about Lettie and her family. In turn, that information has set my research on a course that I had not anticipated. While I ponder what to do with the information, it makes sense for me to begin writing short biographies of the people involved- noting that these bios will require modification as additional information becomes available.

This blog seems an appropriate place as any to post them, and it seems only fitting to begin with what I’ve learned about Lettie. Assuming I fail to find a different voice to describe other people encountered in my research, they will be discussed based on their relationship to Lettie, or to the historic property itself.

Lettie W. (Watson) Mize

Lettie W. Watson was born on the westernmost edge of the United States on November 26, 1881 in New Santa Fe, Missouri. Today, only a small cemetery surrounded by a wrought iron fence remains of the town that once served as the virtual starting line for the Santa Fe Trail. Born ten years after her parents Dr. John Ellis Watson and Louisa S. Lipscomb were married, Lettie grew up with one sister, Alma Watson (Horton), and one brother, Dr. Frank L. Watson.

Following the death of Lettie's father, her mother packed up the house and moved to Albuquerque in 1905 with Lettie and Alma in tow. At present, there is no evidence to suggest that Frank moved to Albuquerque. It is reported that he was living in McAllister, Oklahoma in 1928. Louisa and Lettie became the first residents of the brand new house at 316 Walter Street sometime between 1906 and 1907. It is unclear whether or not Alma also lived here or elsewhere in the city.

By 1907, Lettie was employed as a teacher at the First Ward School. By 1911, she had taught at the Third and Second ward schools. Not long after that, she had married a butcher named Isaac Mize, and given birth to two children- Henrietta in 1913 and Wallace (date unknown- but I am working on it).

By the end of the 1920s, Lettie was employed as an “expression teacher,” a job I believe she performed here in the house. If you have any idea what an “expression teacher” did, please shoot me a comment. I am of the belief that she coached people in the art of public speaking or debate.

The last time I can confidently place Lettie in the house was 1955, but I suspect she remained in Albuquerque after she moved. A charter member of Monte Vista Christian Church, Lettie also served as a regent of the Lew Wallace Chapter of the National Society of the Daughter of the American Revolution.

Lettie passed away following a long illness at the age of 90 on July 8, 1972, exactly 33 years and one day after the death of her husband Isaac.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

the gift of the junkie

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 660 times… that one of the, if not THE, coolest things about collecting baseball cards is the “trade.” Whether putting together the deal that ultimately adds a highly prized 1974 Cookie Rojas card to your collection, or finally obtaining that elusive card to complete a set you’ve been working on seemingly forever, it is all good fun! A satisfying trade never fails to transport me back in time to the Ray Bradbury moments of my youth- lazy, hot summer afternoons spent on the front porch of our house trading baseball cards with my buddies.

With that in mind, I am pleased to report that the final card I need to complete my base set of the 2007 Allen & Ginter cards is in the works as the result of the generosity of one of the more interesting baseball card bloggers- Cardboard Junkie! I dare say that if the Junkie’s kind-hearted gesture had been portrayed in a movie 100 years ago it would have been enough to make William Sydney Porter leave the theater early in search of a good bar.

I’ve been a fan of the Cardboard Junkie for quite a while now. It is one of the few blogs I check on a daily basis- if for no other reason that to see what “new” oddball cards he has obtained as part of his Allen & Ginter type set quest. I’d say that collecting cards that were originally printed and distributed in the late 1800s is a noble project- definitely for someone much braver than myself!

In honor of finishing the set, I think I should mention that my favorite card has to be no. 201 Freddy Sanchez.

In my opinion, this is clearly the best-looking card in the set, and in no way suggests that I am a huge Freddy Sanchez fan. I simply prefer the color, pose and card orientation over everything else in the set. Based solely on those criteria, runners up would be no. 204 Alex Gordon, no. 311 David Ross and no. 261 Torii Hunter- with a special nod going to card no. 239 author Fyodor Dostoevsky. The last one is total creepshow!

I don’t have the heart to ask the Junkie when he plans on picking up an original Allen & Ginter cigarette package to complete his monumental undertaking, but it should prove to be an interesting entry when he gets around to it.

Besides, I need to mind my own business and concentrate on completing the 2006 set, and there’s still that unfinished 1975 Topps set staring at me from across my office with an expression similar to that of a photo of a kid on the side of a milk carton.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

used car salesmen

Just when you were convinced that I was out of the comics business…

Pretty much the only thing you need to know about the conception of this idea is that when it “struck me,” it was WAY funnier than the turbulence we were experiencing at some 39,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean.

(Don't forget to click on the image!)

Also, now that I’m done and just looking at it, I have to say that the Ford salesman bears a striking resemblance to Bloom County’s Steve Dallas (unintentionally, of course). I wonder how much of the rest I stole from someone(s).