INTERVIEW: Paul Hasdall — Baseball Card Collector, Autograph Hound, Mets Fan, and Blogger Behind “Paul’s Random Stuff”

Paul Hasdall is a Mets fan on a quest. In Paul’s own words: “I’m trying to obtain a baseball card signed by each player who has appeared in a game for the New York Mets. I currently have 836 of 940 Mets players.” 
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So, okay, maybe he’s a little obsessive.
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Paul also writes a terrific blog, Paul’s Random Stuff. I came across it a while back and, frankly, just immediately liked the guy. He’s down-to-earth, generous with his knowledge (without ever pretending to be Joe Expert), has a variety of interests, and he writes a clean, clear blog about, um, assorted things (but mostly Mets-related). So I invited him over to the spacious offices here at “2 Guys” Inc.
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Here he comes now — and he’s with John Franco! Let’s start the interview.
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Hey, Paul. When did you get the idea for collecting Mets autographs?
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I started collecting baseball autographs when I was still in junior high or high school, but I didn’t put too much thought into it. I did end up with a lot of Mets players since they have always been my favorite team. A few years ago, I found the All-Time Roster page at the Ultimate Mets Database and I started wondering how many of those players I had gotten autographs from. In the fall of 2007, probably as an unconscious way of coping with the Mets’ September collapse, I started to focus on the project and try to fill in players I was missing.
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Yeah, that was a good way of coping. After that particular collapse, I quit my job and started drinking heavily. The cheap stuff, the kind that burns going down. I’m actually typing this from a gutter outside a Flushing chop shop in the Iron Triangle.
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It’s not easy to be a Mets fan.
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No, it is not. There must be some very tough “gets” on your list. Outside of the dead ones, of course. The challenge must appeal to you.
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This isn’t really the type of project that you could ever say was “finished.”
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So there’s no Holy Grail at the end of this quest?
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On June 3, 1990, Dave Liddell singled and scored in his one at-bat of the day -- marking the sum total of his career. He never made it into another major league game.

On June 3, 1990, Dave Liddell singled and scored in his one at-bat of the day — marking the sum total of his career. He never made it into another major league game.

Not in the conventional sense. On the other hand, when you’re working on a project like this, finding that signed Dave Liddell card in a card dealer’s box of autographs can make your day. Even if I somehow managed to find autographs of the current 940 all-time Mets, every year there are more new players that get added to that number. That does appeal to me, because the fun of collecting is in the process as much as the results.

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When you look at your list of guys you still need to get, who do you think will be the toughest? Are there any guys who simply won’t sign?
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Well, obviously the dead guys won’t be signing any more autographs. Most of them did sign plenty during and after their playing careers, so it’s a matter of finding those. There are former players that just don’t like the idea of signing autographs -– 1974 NL Cy Young Award Winner Mike Marshall is a well-known example. For years, he refused to sign any autographs. Finally, autograph dealer Bill Corcoran offered him enough money to change his mind and now his signature is more common. Not cheap, though –- Marshall’s current signing fee starts at $150. And modern stars like Mike Piazza don’t really have any need to sign autographs for money and didn’t sign that many relative to demand, so they are a bit of a challenge. But the toughest autographs are those of obscure players who didn’t appear on many baseball cards and have dropped out of sight after their playing careers ended. For example, 1982 Mets outfielder Rusty Tillman’s major league career consisted of just 38 games between 1982 and 1988 and he never appeared on a major league baseball card. In 2008, he was homeless. No idea where he is now, and I’ve never seen a copy of his autograph.
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Kingman, from Paul’s collection, obtained through the mail.

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What kind of lengths will you go to for an autograph? Are you sleeping in the bushes outside Kingman’s house?
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No, no. I hope that no one is doing stuff like that. I once stood on line outside in the middle of January for a few hours to get Paul LoDuca’s autograph when the Mets still had public winter caravan events, but that’s about the craziest thing I’ve done. Most of my autographs have been acquired by writing to the players or asking them at the ballpark.

Paul Lo Duca, right on the sweet spot.

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What’s your strategy for getting autographs at the ballpark? It never seems to work well for my kids.
Go to minor league games and try to catch the guys on their way up, or try for the former players on the coaching staffs. The lower the level, the more likely the players are to sign. Some of the Brooklyn Cyclones even look like they’re having fun.I think it’s best to look at getting an autograph at a major league stadium as an unexpected bonus, really. If you’re going to try to get anything signed at Citi Field, it helps if you can afford the seats behind the dugouts (StubHub can make it surprisingly feasible late in the season). You might be able to stop a player or coach before or after warmups — I got Roger McDowell to sign a baseball that way in 2009.
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Can you name this Met? The clue is in the photo — he’s a southpaw.

The Mets usually don’t take batting practice before day games that follow night games, so not too many people hang out by the field then. The pitchers throw every day, so I’ll go down by the right field line and take some photos if I’m there for a Saturday or Sunday game. Most days, somebody will stop on the way back to the dugout to sign autographs. The same strategy works for the visiting team, but sometimes they decide they don’t want to sign for Mets fans.

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You must have met a lot of these guys in person. Have any encounters been more memorable or out of the ordinary?
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Yes. One that comes to mind is mid-1990s Mets outfielder Carl Everett, who was still playing independent league baseball up until couple of years ago. I had found one of his game-used, cracked bats on eBay and took it to him to get it signed when he was playing for the Newark Bears. While he was signing it, he joked that former Mets clubhouse manager Charlie Samuels must have been selling stuff out the back door. I didn’t think anything of it until two years later when Samuels was indicted.
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Another is 1998 Mets utility player Jim Tatum. After his playing career ended, Tatum took up umpiring and got a job working in the independent Atlantic League -– which is where I got his autograph. As you might imagine, umpires are not eager to be seen signing stuff for fans.
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Some players are rightfully suspicious of the collector who is simply going to try to make a profit on eBay. I’ve heard of players who will only sign for children. Have you tried dressing up as an 8-year-old?
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No, I don’t think that would work too well.
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Well, Paul, you’d have to shave.
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But you’re right –- some players are more likely to sign for kids than they are for adults. Back when Lastings Milledge was going to be a future Mets star, he decided to ignore adult collectors in favor of kids at a Norfolk Tides game I went to. I ended up getting his autograph, anyway -– I traded a Jose Lima card to a kid who got my Milledge card signed for me.

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Wow, a Jose Lima card. How generous. The poor kid couldn’t have held out for a Royce Ring card?
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Milledge is no prize, either. But maybe he’ll find stardom in Japan.
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I think your blog is excellent. Clear, clean, concise –- all the important c-words. You don’t over-write or try to direct attention to the writing itself. You simply communicate effectively. So my hat’s off to you. How long have you been at it?
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Thank you –- but are you sure you’ve got the right blogger? “Paul’s Random Stuff” dates back to 2007, though it was much less focused in the beginning and included non-baseball stuff as well. I registered the RandomBaseballStuff.com domain in 2011 after deciding to be a little less random.
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On your site, you provide a “Guide to Collecting Autographs Through the Mail.”  I was impressed with your spirit of generosity. You give away everything a collector needs to know, plus a few tips that must have taken you years to learn.
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Most of the advice I offer is basic common sense, though it did take me a while to figure out what to do with glossy modern baseball cards so they could be signed without the ink bubbling and smearing. (I’d love to give credit to the collector who first shared that tip with me, but that’s been lost to the fog of time.)
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Collecting has changed so much over the years, mostly because of eBay. I used to go to shows over at the Polish Union in Albany –- what a cast of characters, the crusty old-school collectors –- whereas now that seems to have largely disappeared.
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Sports card shops and shows are still hanging on, but it’s tough for them to compete with eBay and sites like Becket Marketplace, COMC.com and Sportslots.com. When I first started buying baseball cards, there was a show somewhere within a few miles of my home just about every weekend. The small ones would have more than a dozen dealers. There was one that was big enough to have an autograph guest at least once a month, with two or three dozen dealers. And a few times a year, there would be a sports card show that was big enough that I’d run out of money before I saw all the dealers’ tables. As much as I miss the old days, it’s a lot easier to find cards you’re looking for when you can buy them from people anywhere in the world rather than just the ones who live in your immediate area.
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Back in 2001, I did a little book for Major League Baseball, partnered with the four main baseball card companies at the time — Topps, Fleer, Upper Deck, and Donruss — called “The Major League Guide to Baseball Card Collecting.” It was sold in a cool tin and also included four packs of cards. That was my introduction to collecting and I really enjoyed it. I saw that it could become both expensive and obsessive. Out of that experience, I spent a few years completing a Near-Mint/Excellent 1969 Topps set. Are you a set collector? What are your favorite years?
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I have Topps sets from 1981 through 1989 that my father passed along to me, and I collected sets myself in the late 1980s and early 1990s before I got out of the baseball card hobby for awhile. When I came back, I put together the 2002 Fleer set by buying packs –- I realized that I’d spent over $100 on a set no one else was really even interested in, and I decided that it was more fun to focus on Mets cards and autographs.
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Yeah, when it comes to sets, I think you’ve got to go ’75 or older. If I was rich, I’d shoot for the classic 1952 Topps. Though I do like the corny 1958 design — I have bunch of poor condition regulars, the non-stars. 1975 has a cheesy design that screams 1970′s to me, so I love that one, too. And the 1971 Topps design always catches my eye — hard to find those in excellent condition because of the black border. Good-looking set that was also notable because it featured action photographs.
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Clockwise, from top left: 1971, 1958, 1975, 1952 Topps.
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The older cards do have a certain classic appeal, but I don’t really have a strong emotional connection to them. I’m partial to the 1989 Upper Deck and Topps Stadium Club sets from 1991 and 1993 because they were fun to collect, but design-wise, my favorites are the 1967, 1969 & 1972 Topps sets.
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What was the first card you spent good money on?
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I remember getting Darryl Strawberry and Don Mattingly cards out of the first pack I bought with my own money, but even at the time they weren’t big money cards. I know I spent too much money on Gregg Jefferies rookie cards, but I was a kid and got sucked in by the hype.
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Don’t feel bad, I have a box full of Craig Brazell and Justin Huber cards (not really). Anything else?
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Ken Griffey Jr.’s 1989 Upper Deck rookie, maybe? Gary Carter’s three 1975 rookie cards, I’d bet –- I think the Topps mini one cost around $50 at the time I got it.
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Can you share a few of your favorites?
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When I was a senior in high school, the baseball players were getting ready to go out on strike (again), the Mets were having a terrible season (again) and I was beginning to lose interest in the hobby. Instead of going nuts chasing after every last over-priced (and over-produced) insert card featuring a 1994 Met, I thought it would be more fun to focus on collecting cards of some good players. I started collecting the 1969 Mets team set, and listening to the stories that my father could tell me about the players from that era. He gave me a few cards to get started, including a Tom Seaver, a Nolan Ryan and this Bud Harrleson.
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Buddy is representative of the overall condition of the cards I received, but I was thrilled to get them. It meant something that my father wanted to share them with me, and it saved me from having key holes in the set. I eventually got a mint copy of the Harrleson card for my team set, and had him sign one at a baseball card show appearance.
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Bob Murphy was the Mets for me. My family didn’t get Sportschannel, so if the Mets weren’t on WWOR, I had to listen to the radio if I wanted to know what was going on in the game. And when they were on WWOR, it was still tempting to listen to Murph instead of hearing Tim McCarver go on about how Darryl Strawberry was playing too deep for the millionth time.
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Gary Carter still is my favorite baseball player, and I was thrilled to get to meet him when he managed the Long Island Ducks in the Atlantic League in 2009. He signed this photo from the Shea Stadium farewell ceremony and a couple of Ducks cards for me that year.
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R.A. Dickey signed this baseball card for me at Citi Field before a game in 2011. He’s the best player that’s signed anything for me at the Mets’ new ballpark.
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You are also a Mets fan.  And like many fans, you seem a tad depressed over the off-season.
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It’s been a tough few years to be a Mets fan. They haven’t finished with a winning record since 2008. The 2006 playoff team’s NLCS Game 7 defeat, 2007’s September collapse and 2008’s last-day playoff elimination were all brutal. I’m hopeful that young players like Ike Davis, Jonathon Niese, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Travis d’Arnaud can become part of the next great Mets era, but at the same time I worry that David Wright is going to become the Mets’ version of Don Mattingly -– a fan favorite who never got to play in a World Series.
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Okay, Lightning Round. Five favorite Mets, all-time?
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Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry, Edgardo Alfonzo, Jeff Innis and Omir Santos.
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Ha-ha, that’s funny. I thought you said “Jeff Innis” and “Omir Santos.” 
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It was hard to find any Mets that made me want to root for them in the early 1990s. Jeff Innis was actually a pretty good reliever for “The Worst Team Money Could Buy” — he set the Mets’ single-season appearance record that year.Omir Santos was another underdog, but he had his moments. His game-winning home run off of Jonathan Papelbon made it as one of SNY’s Mets Classics. I thought he got a bum deal in 2010, but it still makes me smile when I see his name in a minor league box score.
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Citi Field, what are you eating?
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The chicken tacos at El Verano Taquería or the Gold Glove Burger at Keith’s Grill.
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Three favorite baseball books?
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Bats, Davey Johnson’s account of the 1985 season written with Peter Golenbock; Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella (the basis for the film, “Field of Dreams”); and The Natural by Bernard Malamud.
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Favorite moment as a Mets fan?
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I was young enough that I was in bed sleeping when the Mets won the World Series in 1986, so that’s out.
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Don’t feel bad, my co-blogger, Mike, was napping when Kennedy got shot. Yes, he’s that old. Wait a minute, so am I!
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For moments I saw on television, the last inning of Johan Santana’s no-hitter. For ones I saw in person, R.A. Dickey’s one-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles last year, or Santana’s second-to-last start at Shea Stadium (a win in the last game I saw there.)
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Lastly, any advice to the first-time collector?
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Figure out what you really want to collect. Don’t chase after things because someone else tells you to, and don’t expect your collection to be worth a fortune someday. If collecting baseball cards or autographs doesn’t make you happy, it’s not worth doing.
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Same is true for blogging.
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Yes, I think that’s true of any hobby.
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Well, Paul, I see that Internet has run out of space, so we’re going to have to cut this conversation short at 55,000 words. Thanks for coming by, and good luck on your noble quest!
TO SEE PAUL’S FULL LIST OF MISSING METS AUTOGRAPHS, CLICK HERE. WHO KNOWS, MAYBE PAUL WILL TRADE YOU A JOSE LIMA CARD FOR ONE!

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2 comments

  1. jimmy ianniello says:

    Paul , that was great and I really enjoyed reading and find that I have the same interest as you , collecting Mets autographs. Keep on enjoying the hobby and our beloved N Y Mets. My favorite Mets were from 1969 all i neeed is Berra, Jesse Hudson and Mike Jorgensen.

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