Mike ‘Tiger Nut’ Micho Defines Detroit

“Does ‘Tigernut’ know
where my catcher went?”

Mike Micho is my kind of collector. Let other collectors dive into the scrum to get the starting nine’s autographs. Mike, the self-proclaimed “Tigernut,” (his handle on the http://www.sportscollectors.net/ forum) is telling the team’s story by collecting the groundskeeper, front office folk — anyone who helps Detroit win.

As his team savors its division title, Mike relishes every Tigers-related autograph. He’s not limited by faces in card sets. Mike keeps Detroit history his way. Here’s his epic hobby tale:

Q: How did you get started with Tigers autographs?

A: I`ve been collecting Detroit Tigers and other baseball/football/hockey/basketball autographs since 1989, however, I began specializing in Detroit Tigers players,managers,coaches,announcers, and other Tigers personnel TTM in 2001 after reading a book about the complete history of the club. It got me thinking and put the idea in my head to somehow attempt to collect at least one signature from everyone who wore the old English D from the 1934-35 A.L. Championship teams to the present. I didn`t really know if I could achieve this, but once I got started I became instantly hooked!

A handful of my signatures over the years have been in person from ballgames and card shows, but most of them have came TTM and with other trades/deals with other collectors.

Q: What was Tiger Stadium like for an autograph collector?

A: When Tiger Stadium was the home of the Tigers, it was a great place to get players signatures from both the Tigers and visitors dugouts. The dugouts were small and easily accessible, along with the open bullpens down each foul line. You were so close to the field, it was really wonderful.

At Comerica,I have found it to be much easier to get Tigers players to sign compared to the visiting teams,however,I`ve never gotten as many at Comerica as compared to Tiger Stadium.

Q: Are you Detroit area?

A: No,I don`t live near Detroit. In fact, I live 150 miles away in Mid-Michigan, Essexville, MI, near Lake Huron. I`m lucky if I get to 4 to 5 games a year.

I`ve been able to obtain many former Tigers greats at cards shows throughout the state of Michigan over the years, especially at a place called the Gibralter Trade Center located in Mt. Clements and Taylor, Michigan. These use to be huge card shows that took place twice a month. However, there aren`t as many shows lately, due to the economy in Michigan the last few years.

Q: Who are some out-of-uniform Tigers family members you’ve collected?

A: The non-players I`ve collected with the Tigers organization have included former GM`s (Randy Smith, Bill Lajoie), announcers (the great Ernie Harwell, Ray Lane, Dan Dickerson, Paul Carey),and even the head groundskeeper Heather Nabozny. She`s one of the best in the game today. I sent Miss Nabozny a Signature Card to sign,and it came out great. Owner Mike Illich has also been kind enough to sign for me.

Q: Have you tried making Tigers custom “cards”?

A: I have on occasion made my own cards to have signed that simply have the English D on them. I found the perfect size on Google Images. Most of my signatures are on standard issued cards or Signature Cards. I`ve also got quite a few signatures on blank IC`s for some of the older players from the 30`s, 40`s,and early 50`s.

Q: What are the letters you mail like?

A: The letters I send are handwritten, always include how I became a lifelong Tigers fan, why I love the game and the Tigers so much, and what the team has ment to me over the years. I don`t believe “form” letters are personal enough, and I`ve even received notes back from mostly older players that say the same thing.
Most of what I send and ask to be signed are cards, but occasionally I have sent 8x10s, IC`s, and magazines (or photos I`ve taken at ballgames).

Q: Have you asked questions by mail? What answers have you gotten?

A:  I`ve received quite a few responses and notes from mostly the older players over the years, answering questions or thanking me for writing and being a Tigers fan. The strangest one I received was from  former pitcher Ron Nischwitz, who sent me a two-page handwritten letter,answering my questions and thanking me for writing. Then, two weeks later, I received another letter from Mr. Nischwitz asking me if I knew or knew how to locate a former player he had on his team when he coached baseball at Wright State University in Dayton,OH. in the 1980`s, who lived in Bay City,MI. (Essexville is a suburb of Bay City were I grew up). He stated this player was his catcher and was referred to him by Tony Lucadello, a scout for the Cubs and Phillies at the time. He then told me he`d really like to this players’ address or phone number, but never stated why? I loved it,he wanted me to play PI for him! I did look,but could never locate this player. Jokingly,I would have told him it would have cost multiple signatures for this information!

Q: Are you picky about what signed items you’ll collect?

A: Well, I feel “to each his own,” however, I don`t feel that way. I myself,am extremely happy if I can receive any former Tiger on anything. In fact,one former player from the late 20`s-early 30`s,catcher Ray Hayworth, I only have on a cancelled check,and I`m thrilled to death to have him!There are also a few players that only played a handful of games,or only played in the Tigers Minor League system that I have gotten a Tigers replica jersey that I`ve been getting signed since 1995 (it also contains HOF`ers George Kell, Sparky Anderson, Hal Nwehouser, Al Kaline).

Yes,I`d love them on cards,but just to have them is what`s important.

Q: Are you working on special hobby projects?

A: Well,since some of the Tigers signing has slowed down a bit,I`m currently sending out quite a few cards to have multi-signed by players, mostly RC`s of players from the 60`s and 70`s. Some also include former Tigers players/coaches that I still need.I`ve always thought multi-signed cards look great,and my favorite is a 1959 card of Pirates pitchers called “Buc`s Hurlers”,that I`ve got all 4 to sign. One player, Ron Kline (and former Tiger) was the first I got on it,and not long after he passed away. To me,it`s my favorite non-Tigers card I have signed. I`ve also begun picking up older Minor League cards of Tigers clubs to eventually get signed. As my wife says,”It just never ends!”

Q: Advice for team-only collectors?

A: My advice to anyone thinking of collecting a certain club: first, make sure you pick a starting point(year/season) of where to begin your collection, possibly the year you were born, last championship team,etc. Second, if possible, try to start with the oldest players (or other personnel) from that first season. I didn`t always follow that advice and ended up missing out on a few players before their passing. If you do miss out on some players,remember,always be on the lookout for possible trades or sales of former players on collector sites, it has helped me out a lot.

Thanks, Mike. I hope your Tigers give you some collectible October memories!

Minnesota Twin Steve Brye Bats Away Ego

Brye has kept the
same signature. It looks like
his bat might whack the
autograph right off the card!

There’s still time to cheer for former Minnesota Twin Steve Brye.

I tried. His all-star humility can outhit any compliment. Retirees are entitled to a bit of chest-thumping remembrances. Especially a platoon player. “I was great when I got to play. Could’ve been greater!” is the common response.

Not Brye. This team player’s letter was a classy reminder of the 1970s players I admired most.

I asked about being a first-round draft pick in 1967. He remembered…

“In 1967, the draft was very low-keyed compared to the draft now. I had a good friend who covered the Oakland Raiders for the Oakland Tribune. I went to work with him on draft day and watched the picks come over the ‘tele-type.’ I found out afterwards that the Giants, with the next pick, were going to draft me as a catcher. So it all worked out.”

Wow! There’s one possibility for Twins and Giants fans to ponder. “Now batting for the Giants, catcher Steve Brye”?

I found on http://www.retrosheet.org/ (thanks, guys!) evidence of one of Brye’s biggest games ever: four hits, four RBI, three runs scored — a 1974 slugfest at Tiger Stadium. Brye noted:

“I was fortunate to have good games in Detroit. I loved playing there. For some reason, players have real success against some teams and not so good against others.”

Brye’s smart, patient work ethic paid off against Wilbur Wood, yielding 16 career hits off the knuckleballer. Brye explained:

“I was a contact, gap-to-gap, hitter, so that approach helped me against Wilbur Wood and his type of pitcher. I had to get my hits then, because after the 5th or 6th inning, they would bring in Terry Forster or Rich Gossage!”

Lastly, Brye added a note about the meaning of baseball. I had read comments from other collectors that Brye had mentioned that he had taken baseball trips to Cuba. I asked. I’m glad I did! He added:

“Yes, I went to Cuba to play ball, last Feb. and five years ago (Santiago and Havana). It was great. The people were great and I felt very safe there.

Baseball is a terrific common denominator, and has provided chances for me that I would have never had, and to develop relationships that last a lifetime.

Thanks for your interest. All the best —

Steve Brye”

Here’s a classic essay by Josh Wilker of “Cardboard Gods” about Brye.

Coming Friday: Toast the post-season with Mike “TigerNut” Micho and his comprehensive autograph collection!

Red Danny Litwhiler’s Legacy: Go Beyond Stats

I missed out on writing to Danny Litwhiler, who held the distinction of being the oldest Cincinnati Red until his recent death at age 95.

His statistics aren’t overwhelming. Although anyone with more than 100 career homers isn’t a slouch.

His obituary told the untold story about Litwhiler. The outfielder posed for a picture with Jackie Robinson when the Dodgers visited Cincinnati in 1948. The gesture helped quell racial tensions.

Litwhiler’s questionable knee kept him out of the military until 1945. Nevertheless, he found a way to serve the war effort.

He molded future careers for Rick Miller, Kirk Gibson and Steve Garvey as a college coach. During his collegiate career, Litwhiler pushed for innovations like radar guns and Diamond Grit to keep wet fields playable.

In 2000, he teamed with talented author and historian Jim Sargent to write Danny Litwhiler: Living The Baseball Dream.

Phillies fan Stan Price was one of the lucky ones who tracked down Litwhiler before the veteran’s health (and signing) went downhill beginning in 2009. You can tell tons about Litwhiler’s work ethic and love of the game from the photo — which Stan turned into an amazing custom card.

There are still Danny Litwhiler-ish men from baseball’s past out there. Do your homework, and you’ll find men whose biggest victories never fit into a box score.

Coming Thursday: Awesome insights from Twins outfielder Steve Brye.

Minnesota Twins Outfielder Bob Allison Dubbed Thin, Sharp Pitcher Tom Hall “Blade”

Tom still has “thin and sharp”
handwriting today! I found
this gem on twinscards.com.
It’s a must-stop for Twins fans.

Where have all the nicknames gone?

I remember the late, great Ernie Harwell saying that he believed that a shortened last name, something like “Higgy” for Bobby Higginson, didn’t compare to baseball’s greatest nicknames.

That was one reason I wrote to Tom Hall. His “Blade” nickname seemed like something Marvel Comics invented. Interestingly, it took just one teammate to create such a title. Hall explained:

“Bob Allison gave me that name when I was with the Twins in 1969. He said ‘I was so thin and sharp on the mound.'”

That same year, on Aug. 24, Hall twirled a four-hit masterpiece at home against the Yankees. What made that win memorable?

“Being able to go 9 innings as a relief pitcher.”

Never before had I asked a former player about his first highlight, just getting signed to a pro contract. I’m glad I quizzed Hall. He remembered:

“Jess Flores scouted and signed me in 1966. My mom and dad were present at the signing. It was very exciting. Yes, I did get a signing bonus, nothing like today.”

He concluded his generous letter not with an autograph, but a smiley face exclamation. I like to think of it as The Blade’s self-portrait.

Coming Wednesday: Beyond the stats of Danny Litwhiler.

Thanking Chicago Cubs Voice Pat Hughes

I was on the Sunday WGN Radio broadcast of the Cubs versus the Cardinals.

No, not me. My note.

I wasn’t trying for instant fame. You’re supposed to wear the rainbow clown wig for that, right?

I just wanted to thank Pat for his summer of optimism. Also, I shared my gratitude for the impressive work he did on the tribute book Ron Santo, A Perfect 10.

Pat and Keith Moreland read the note and commented on the air. I’m glad for that. However, I mainly wanted to say goodbye to another season by being grateful. I know Pat’s great tribute CDs of legendary announcers, his “Baseball Voices” series, will keep me warm throughout a long winter.

Whenever writing letters to current and former players seem to be a chore, take a break. Write a thank-you note to someone in baseball, someone who’s made being a fan sweeter.

In other words, stop thinking about what the letter will get you. Instead, think of what your letter has to GIVE.

Coming Tuesday: Pitcher Tom “Blade” Hall tells how he got his nickname.