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Mudville: June 22, 2024 12:48 am PDT

The Millburg Express

BY KEVIN CZERWINSKI

The opportunity to grow up watching Dick Allen terrorize the American League for the better part of three seasons with the White Sox in the early 1970s made quite the impression on Andrew Woolley.

Allen, possibly one of the most misunderstood players ever to take the field, was on his fourth team in four seasons when he suited up for the Sox in 1972 but demonstrated on a daily basis of what he was capable. The then 30-year-old slugger led the league in homers, RBIs, slugging percentage and on-base percentage, winning the MVP while leading Chicago to a second-place finish, just 5.5 games behind the juggernaut Oakland A’s.

He hit .308, finishing third in the AL, just 10 points off the pace set by Minnesota’s Rod Carew, a gap, which had he closed, would have won him a Triple Crown. Woolley watched and appreciated what the Wampum Walloper did, helping cement his love of the game.

Now, more than 50 years later, Allen’s influence remains. Woolley, whose full-time job is selling software, has also been photographing baseball professionally for many years. His work has appeared in countless publications over the last two decades with most of his photos appearing in Baseball America and currently with the Associated Press through a group of freelance photographers who operate FourSeamImages.com. He has covered every level of baseball from youth ball to high school and colleges through the Minor Leagues right up to the Major Leagues.

Andrew Woolley of Millburg Trading Cards.

Woolley’s love of the game and his ability to chronicle it has also led him to becoming one of the premier baseball card artists in what is one of the collecting world’s hottest genres. The passion that Allen and the White Sox helped spark in a 7-year-old a half century ago continues to burn brightly, taking Woolley to places he never could have imagined while also allowing him to gain entry to Allen’s inner circle.

“I was a terrible little leaguer,” said Woolley, who was born and raised in Michigan. “I played in high school, too, but I was not very good. I grew up on the western side of the state and I was a White Sox fan initially. I loved Dick Allen and became a big Phillies fan when he got traded back there [via the Braves in 1975] and still am to this day. And my work enabled me to meet and become very close friends with Dick Allen.

“I have designed hundreds of Dick Allen cards. His son and I are the same age and we connected. And, for the last 10 years of Dick’s life [he passed away in Dec. 2020] I was a close, personal friend. We were all together with his son, his grandson and his widow when the Hall-of-Fame vote was announced [in 2021] and having him miss by one vote was a gut punch. The Phillies retired his number during Covid and a few weeks ago they had a ceremony so they could have people in the stands and I got to participate in that as well. I consider myself extremely lucky to have known him and be friends with him.”

Collectors who have made Woolley’s work part of their collection also consider themselves lucky. His works are colorful and creative, mixing textures and formats while incorporating outside sources such as autographs or tickets to make what Woolley calls relic cards, all of which make his work some of the hobby’s most attractive pieces.

Each of his cards – of which there are hundreds – are handmade and can be found on his website, millburgtradingcards.com, named after the small town in Southwest Michigan near where Woolley grew up. His work can also be found on and Instagram [@millburgcards] and Threads [@millburgcards].

The majority of Woolley’s work is now digital with a small percentage of his creations becoming physical cards. The rest he shares on the internet.

“I’ve always been artistic,” Woolley, 57, said. “I would say that I am creative. I am an artist but I wouldn’t claim I am a great artist. I’m just me. I taught myself.”

The time it takes Woolley to create a card and put it together varies. He has templates from a design perspective and said that he loves to try new things such as changing colors, fonts or designs and those cards can take up to a half hour. Most of his cards are standard size but he does get asked to create something larger.

He typically charges $5 for a card but the price can be higher if he does a custom piece. His favorite card is the 1974 Topps Dick Allen. That was the first year he began collecting and he thinks that the Allen card is “the greatest looking card ever”.

“I did a variation of that card,” said Woolley, who lives his wife, Shelley, just outside Ann Arbor, Mich. “I colorized a line drawing of the Baseball Digest in 1972 when Allen won the Player of the Year Award. That is probably my favorite.”

Woolley, who took up photography in high school, earned a BA from Michigan in political science and an MBA from Baylor. His love of baseball never waned and it was that passion, combined with his camera work, which helped change his career trajectory. Woolley was living outside of Austin, Texas in 1999 when it was announced that Hall-of-Famer Nolan Ryan would be part of the ownership group that would move the Jackson Generals from Mississippi to Round Rock, Texas.

“I was a season ticket holder and I would bring my camera to the games and take pictures from the stands,” said Woolley, who also served in the Marines after graduating from Michigan. “When I graduated from Baylor, I started getting back into photography. One of the guys from Baseball America saw me on my personal site and asked if I would like to shoot for Baseball America. It was pretty cool and allowed me to take my photography to the next level.

“Since then, I have shot hundreds of games, been to dozens of Major and Minor League ballparks, gone to the College World Series and done just about everything you can do in baseball. At that time, I didn’t think was something I could do. It’s pretty cool to see my photos actually being used by Topps. I have a Gerritt Cole rookie, Wander Franco’s rookie and Fernando Tatis, Jr. That’s my stuff.”

Woolley’s “stuff” also includes his latest project, 30 Days of New Card Art, which he launched earlier this month. He goes online, finds what happened on that day in baseball history and creates a corresponding card.

While he gets a great deal of joy from each of his creations, don’t look for Woolley to make his operation bigger than it currently is. He’s not ready to quit his day job.

“I could probably stop doing my real job and do this but then I’d have to take it to another level,” he said. “I’ve had that approach with other things and eventually it starts to feel like a job so I have intentionally kept this as a side thing. For me, this is just fun. I don’t want to have to become too big of a thing simply to become a job and I am too old to work as an artist for a baseball card company. So, I’m just having fun with it.”

Woolley’s come a long way since watching Dick Allen at Comiskey Park all those years ago. The joy and passion that his favorite player brought out in him, however, remains.

Covered a Mets-Astros doubleheader in 1987 and never looked back. Spent eight years at MLB.com, more than half of that as the Mets beat writer. Had one beat writer from another newspaper threaten to kill him in an elevator at the winter meetings. The other half was as MiLB.com’s staff historian. Worked three years in Philly at Comcast covering the Phillies’ minor leagues and doing weekly TV spots. Author of the popular blog The Bobblist, which covers everything A to Z in the world of bobbleheads. Really.

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