A Wale of a Tale
(Just bear with me please…I promise that this story is actually about baseball cards!)
To the best of my recollection, it wasn’t until 2003 that I gave into the reality that cassettes (those weird things that you used to pop into ultra-cool boomboxes and Walkmans) were about to fully go the way of the dinosaurs.
I held out as long as I could, but I knew that if I intended to continue building my music collection, I had no choice but to join the ranks of music lovers who could magically pop in a disc and skip past tracks with a single, painless click of the fast-forward button.
It didn’t take long for me to be completely won over (and buying my first ipod absolutely factored into making the transition much easier) and I soon was on a mission to try and replace every single one of my thousands of cassettes.
As each cassette was replaced by a new and (much, much, much) improved twin, I still struggled with the idea of parting with any of them. But living in a small 1BR apartment, it quickly became a harsh reality that I had no room to house two duplicate music collections – one of which was doing nothing but gathering dust.
Nearly all of my cassettes ended up being donated, but there were a scant few that I decided to keep for sentimental reasons. And, much to my surprise, one title that I couldn’t convince myself to let go of was Big Lizard In My Backyard by The Dead Milkmen.
I was far from being a diehard fan, but, whether they liked it or not, the Milkmen were forever endeared to me because of a light-hitting former major leaguer who probably gained more notoriety for his Milkmen fandom than for anything he accomplished during his time on the diamond.
More times than I can count, I removed the cassette from the small “keeper” box with the intention of tossing it…but it always ended back from whence it came. And each time it went back, I was struck by how bizarre it was that I was holding onto it because it truly had no actual tie to Walewander.
I can’t recall the exact year (thinking 2005 or 2006), I happened to come across Jim's address on a site dedicated to TTM autograph requests and that made me decide once and for all that the only way I was keeping this cassette would be if it was directly associated with Jim.
A few weeks later, I opened my mailbox and found an SASE that had this stashed inside:
Now that the Big Lizard toss-it-or-keep-it dilemma was finally put to rest, I couldn’t imagine that I would ever bug Jim with another autograph request.
Oh how wrong I was.
Junk Wax Treasure
In late 2018, I was going through a couple monster boxes from my prime collecting years that had been stashed away since 1992.
As expected, the boxes were packed with about 99% very-late-80s/very-early-90s singles and it was few and far between when I would come across something that caught my attention.
But about midway through the second box, I hit a run of close to 100 cards of a one-career-home-run-Dead-Milkmen-loving Detroit Tigers infielder.
Much like my reaction to keeping the Big Lizard cassette, I found myself asking “Why would I need to keep all of these?”
And, just like before, I failed at coming up with a valid reason…but still found myself placing each and every one of these 1988 Topps, 1988 Score, 1989 Topps, 1989 Donruss, 1989 Fleer, 1989 Score and 1989 Upper Deck cards into a Keeper stack on my desk.
And for months that stack sat basically untouched.
My odd little treasure trove of Jim Walewander goodness.
It was somewhat interesting timing in stumbling across this bounty of singles because I had been working out a trade with Gavin for a few custom cards – three of which happened to be of Walewander.
I had seen recent posts stating that Jim had included copies of his own custom cards when returning TTM requests and that planted a seed in my brain.
Jim began playing professionally in 1983, but didn’t appear on his first card until 1986 (Glens Falls). I’m a huge minor league collector, so I asked Gavin if he could create cards for 1983, 1984 and 1985…but I wanted the fronts to only have the design, no photos. My thought was to ask Jim if he would add his artwork to each.
So I was already planning to send the customs when I found the massive stack of his MLB cards. But I had absolutely no thought whatsoever of including even a single one of them.
So kinda odd/funny/ridiculous that roughly half of them ended up going in the envelope.
Blame The Frame
December 24th: Gavin’s cards arrived
December 25th: My brother gave me a frame that displays 50 cards.
It was a cool gift, but my initial thought was that it might not be very practical.
I don’t really have a desire to display much of my collection and since I also focus primarily on minor league team sets, I just couldn’t picture putting any of my cards into the frame.
So the frame was placed into the storage area of the basement and my hope was that I might eventually figure out how to put it to use.
But I wasn’t overly optimistic that was going to happen anytime soon.
A few weeks later I sat down to prepare the TTM to Jim. As I was writing the letter, I kept looking up at the stack of his cards in the corner of my desk.
And then for some odd reason I also started thinking about the frame.
And then this insane idea hit me.
I tossed the letter and started a new one.
I told Jim about sending the Big Lizard cassette cover years ago and gave him the rundown about the three custom minor league cards, all the singles that I just found as well as telling him about the frame. (And, yes, the letter was much shorter than this blog entry.)
My first ask was if he would be willing to do the images on each of the custom cards - and I wasn't thinking that would be too intrusive.
But then came the doozie.
I told him that my favorite Dead Milkmen song was Dean's Dream (the track is short - just 1:48 total) and asked "If I send you 50 singles along with a sheet that has the lyrics for Dean's Dream broken down to 50 lines, any chance you would write one line on the front of each card and also sign the backs?"
Crazy. Stupid. Ridiculous.
No way he’s going to agree to that. And I was honestly thinking it would be a miracle if I even heard back from him.
Within a week, I had a response telling me to send everything.
The Waiting Game
So on January 29th (2019 mind you) I packaged up the cards and mailed them off - and I included a prepaid return envelope that had a tracking number. My package made it to Jim a few days later and I conservatively estimated that it would take him a few weeks to complete this request.
7 days passed and I figured I'd check the return tracking number just to see - and, as expected, no activity.
14 days...no activity.
A month...no activity.
2 months...no activity.
3 months...no activity.
3 months + 1 day…I gave up.
I mentioned to Jim in my original letter that I had zero expectation that he would agree to do this and even told him that I'd be more than willing to pay. But his reply simply said he was willing to do it.
I figured that there must have been some confusion with my ask and that it did end up being a bit too much. While I was disappointed, I realized that it had always been a shot in dark that Jim would accommodate this crazy request, but I was at least glad that I tried.
I mean, come on, would he really spend time writing lyrics and signing 50 cards?
Yes. He. Would.
With many of my ebay purchases being team sets, it’s not uncommon to open the mailbox and see a padded envelope. And with the evening schedule at home typically being pretty hectic, I usually put the mail on the desk and go through it after my kids are asleep.
So when I finally had a chance to sit down and look at the stack of mail on the night of November 6th, I was shocked to see an envelope that had my handwriting on it.
As soon as my brain processed what I was holding, the first words going through my head were, "HOLY SHIT!"
I ripped the envelope open and can’t even begin to describe how awesome it was to see these cards.
As I looked at the scattered mess of cards, something immediately jumped out at me. I only sent Jim MLB cards but I was seeing lots of minor league singles along with quite a few custom cards.
I quickly got all the cards in order and as I slowly went through the stack, I realized that Jim sent me as many unique individual cards as he could!
As much as I thought that Jim ended up not being on board with my autograph request, seeing that he went out of his way to try and provide me with so many different singles...man...I was standing there realizing that he apparently was all in.
Jim also took the time to complete each of the three custom minor league cards - he glued pics of himself with Lakeland (1984) and Birmingham (1985) while the Bristol card (1983) was turned into a one of kind piece of abstract cardboard art.
While I hadn't intended for these to be part of the project, each of them featured a lyric on the customized front and I found that they were a perfect addition.
Please Sir, Can I Have Another NINE Autographs?
When this idea first hit me, my thought was that if it came to fruition, I’d end up with a frame that displayed multiple copies of each of Jim’s MLB cards.
And I thought that would pretty freaking cool.
But then Jim was kind enough to take matters into his own hands and the Dean’s Dream frame actually featured 28 different cards.
And I thought that was beyond freaking cool.
But then at some point the completist collector inside my head came up with this annoying idea that the project was ever so close to going from “freaking cool” to “freaking epic.”
And I thought…Jim Walewander is going to freaking hate me.
But having Jim curse my name didn’t keep me from researching to find that if I tracked down a mere nine singles, the Dean’s Dream frame could end up including a copy of every card that he appeared on.
Thanks to ebay, Gavin and Sportlots, I had those cards in hand a few weeks ago.
(One of the cards is from Jim’s stint with the Columbus Clippers and it’s part of a foldout sheet that was most likely handed out during the 1990 season. While I do have the sheet in my collection, it’s pretty rare and I couldn’t bring myself to perforate the cards. So Gavin was kind enough to whip up a “reprint” copy.)
I sent a long overdue letter to Jim thanking him for his kindness in not just obliging my off-the-wall request but for including all those different cards.
I told him that his generosity took this crazy request to a level I hadn’t expected – and his including so many unique singles made me wonder if it might somehow be possible to have all of his cards showcased.
So, as sheepishly as I could in writing, I asked if he would mind me sending him the final nine.
I included an already autographed copy of his 1988 Topps card – Jim added this when he signed the Big Lizard cover and he customized it by adorning himself with an arrow through the head and a pair of hipster sunglasses.
Since every card in this project is signed on the back, I thought it might be nice to have a single card where you can actually see his autograph. It just so happened that Jim wrote the final lyric (to see a girl) on a 1988 Topps card, so I asked if he would mind rewriting the lyric on this one.
It didn’t take long before I found this waiting in the mailbox:
The Dream is Over
As I mentioned earlier, my original Dean’s Dream request to Jim was sent January 29, 2019.
And, after 590 days, the project officially came to end on September 10, 2020 when these arrived:
The only “bad” thing was that Jim didn’t sign the back of each. But…umm…yeah…I think I’m gonna let him slide!
(And for those of you paying close attention, yes, those are 1988 Score & Topps and 1989 Fleer & Topps cards. However, they are the glossy versions.
Interesting note: I used an eraser on the fronts of those four cards because I recalled how the glossy surface didn’t always do well with Sharpies. If you look closely, Jim actually used a thick Sharpie on those, compared to the thinner point ink on the others. Just made me wonder if he noticed that those were the glossy cards – I would think most players wouldn’t know/care – and he realized that it might be better to go with a wider pen.)
And because Jim is a freaking awesome human being who is ridiculously generous with his fans, I shouldn’t have been shocked to find something extra stashed in the envelope.
Jim has created five different customs of himself – which he had included one of each in the original stack
The top three have blank backs, but the backs of the bottom two had some odd drawings.
Desk Dude is the back of the 89 Fleer and Shadow People is the back of the 88 Score.
Those obviously stood out, but I really didn’t think much about it - figured he had been using whatever paper was available when he printed these up and some of the sheets happened to have images on them.
Yeah, not so much.
After getting the nine singles out, I realized that there was still something in the envelope.
I reached in and felt what I thought was an oversized card…and pulled it out to find
An “uncut sheet” of Jim Walewander custom Score rookie cards.
And, to borrow a line from earlier, I thought that was beyond freaking cool.
But then I flipped it over
Never would I have imagined that deciding to hold onto a worthless, random cassette back in 2003 would eventually lead to me having a frame with, what I think, are 50 pretty damn unique autographed cards of one of my favorite baseball players.
Never did I think that my collection would include a copy (and, yes it’s a copy, not an original) of a Jim Walewander piece of art on the back of a sheet of Jim Walewander baseball card art.
And never did I realize just how right that stubborn, completist collector in my head was about how this entire project would turn out if I just took a chance and sent those final nine cards…