Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Recalling Padre Bob Barton's Big Blast Of 1971 (Or, The Win That Got Away)

Grand Salami Time!
Bob Barton may have been one of baseball's most chatty catchers.

Judging from his awesome letter, the receptive receiver seems capable of engaging any hitter in conversation. I think pitchers would have loved facing distracted batsmen.

Barton noted that some umpires were happy to converse, too. He noted one in particular, writing:

"Had a lot of conversations with Doug Harvey. He was just elected to the Hall of Fame. Great umpire. Good guy. We became friends."

I discovered that Barton belted a 1971 grand slam. That was only the beginning to an epic story. Barton continued:

"I hit the grand slam against my old teammates, the Giants, in Candlestick Park in the top of the ninth with two outs to put us in front, 9-5, as the score was obviously tied. In the bottom of the ninth, the Giants scored five runs to beat us, 10-9 (I was with the Padres).

"We got 2 guys out in that bottom of the ninth before a dear friend of mine, Dick Dietz, hit a 3-run, 2-out double to clear the bases and drive in the 8th, 9th and 10th runs to beat us. The two hitters we got out before Dick hit the double were a couple of pretty good hitters -- their names -- Willie Mays and Willie McCovey!

"True Story! Enjoy!"

Barton noted his career potential:
"Nine passed balls in eight years in the M.L. with a throwing-out potential base stealers of 43%. Might be an all-time best of the two together. Proud of that.

"But I got caught behind two all-star catchers, Tom Haller in S.F. and [Johnny] Bench in Cincinnati. Frustrating not getting to play more. Made five all-star teams on my way to the M.L. in the minors."
Old catchers are sponges. They soak up all the game's details. The Bob Bartons of baseball history have so much to share. I hope someone keeps asking.

(If you hadn't guessed, www.retrosheet.org did it again. Barton's big day brought to life. Thanks, guys!)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Red Rudy Minarcin Mastered the '55 Dodgers

Even at age 80, I'm sure Rudy Minarcin can produce the same smile seen on his two classic baseball cards.


Just ask him about the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.

Based on June 15's outcome, few would have thought the Dodgers would be that year's World Series winners. Not after the pitcher nicknamed "Buster" beat Brooklyn with a four-hitter.

Looking at Minarcin's letter, I think he may have enjoyed it. He wrote:

"The game against Dodgers was the best and happiest day of my life. It was great for me."
Of course, the heroes at http://www.restrosheet.org/ have documented Minarcin's milestone game.

Minarcin has kept smiling, despite his abbreviated career. He explained:

"My life in baseball was very enjoyable. I would play for nothing. That's what I thought about the game of baseball. I got an ACL [injury] and the doctors didn't know how to fix it back then. That's what put me out of baseball. It was a very big disappointment for me."

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cub Mark Prior Showed Good Letters Count

Why would you have an autographed newspaper clipping?

Because a rookie sensation clipped it out for me.

In 2002, I had attended the Iowa Cubs AAA games that launched pitcher Mark Prior to Stephen Strasburg-like potential. I watched visiting players on their dugout steps, staring and gasping like fanboys. I picked out Chicago general manager Jim Hendry in a Des Moines skybox nodding again and again for each strike, grinning like he just hit the lottery.

I wrote all this to Prior the week Chicago promoted him. I told him how meaningful it was to be part of his ascent to the majors. Plus, I mentioned that I thought I'd never afford the autographs offered in the team gift shop. However, I was enclosing a 9-by-12 SASE. Please, would he have a couple of photos to send to me and my brother?

Enclosed were two carefully-clipped color photos, one from the Tribune, one from the Sun-Times. Both showed that famous pinched Prior signature.

The moral? Forget the form letter. Lose the canned paragraphs. Dream big. Be personal every time. There's no better way to beat those major league odds.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Get Dawson, Herzog & Harvey HOF Postcards!

(Courtesy Samantha Carr, NBHOF)
One of the biggest frustrations I've seen through the years comes from dealers reselling blank Hall of Fame plaque postcards.

Newbie autograph collectors think, "Wow! This dealer was at Cooperstown. He only wants a couple bucks per card. I can get them signed."

It doesn't take a road trip to get the postcards. Buy them direct from the Hall of Fame and save money!

For just 50 cents each, plus postage ($2 for up to 20 cards, $4.95 for 21 to 100 or $6.95 for 101 to 200) you can order the postcards by mail. Call the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum store at 607-547-0280 to request an order form. Or, if you have the names of inductee postcards you want to order, they should do phone orders with a credit card.

The days of members signing for free are fading fast. Bobby Doerr and Lee MacPhail might be the only non-charging exceptions. Nevertheless, the postcards are a link to my past as a fan and collector. They're still a bargain.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Trying Not to Go Batty Over Matt Batts

I own more than one Bill Nowlin baseball title. He's one of SABR's finest researchers and interviewers. Enjoy his profile of Matt Batts on the SABR website here.

Nowlin got Batts to move beyond complaining about the Browns record in 1951. The catcher enjoyed hitting .300 there. Plus, Batts seemed to savor the team of characters, from Bill Veeck and Satchel Paige to Eddie Gaedel.

I tip my cap to my insightful wife for that educated guess on Batts' cryptic autograph. Thankfully, Batts didn't write, "Rosebud."

Seeking the Secret of Matt Batts, Circa 1951

Matt's Favorite Year. Why?

Catcher Matt Batts threw me a curve!

I sent him three questions, along with a sheet to reply. All he signed was...

Matt Batts

The records aren't helping. The Red Sox shipped him to the St. Louis Browns in 1951.

Batts led the American League in errors AND passed balls in 1951.

Offensively, he had more homers and RBI in other seasons. Batts debuted in 1947. Detroit used him as a starter in 1953.

Why 1951? I'd welcome any suggestions, please. To quote my baseball-wise wife:

Think outside the box SCORE!

Batts was a World War II vet. What was going on in his off-the-field life in 1951?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Boston Pitcher Frank Baumann Still Dreams of Being a St. Louis Hometown Hero

Pitcher Frank Baumann grew up in St. Louis. Although he hurled for the Red Sox, White Sox and Cubs, I wondered if he hoped to work for his hometown team. He wrote:

"I had the chance and am sorry I didn't sign with them."

I read about Baumann's seven-hit win against the Tigers in 1961. Baumann banged out three hits and three RBI to help his own cause. Based on his batsmanship, might he have strong feelings about the designated hitter rule?


Talk about heartbreak! On July 13, 1961, Baumann threw 6.1 innings of scoreless relief against the Yankees, adding his second homer of the year. The team's loss overshadowed his day, bailing out future Hall of Famer Early Wynn. What stands out from that day?

"The home run with Sherm Lollar."

You've got to love http://www.retrosheet.org/. They were the source of unraveling this mystery. Baumann was referring to the home run HE hit. However, the pitcher's blast was back-to-back after his batterymate, following Sherm Lollar's no-out homer to lead off the fifth inning against Bill Stafford. It's easy to imagine the glee on the White Sox bench, seeing the #8 hitter then their pitcher break the Yankee shutout with two unlikely dingers.

Baumann (whose name has been misspelled with just one N on some hobby websites -- be careful when sending your fan mail) summed up his career succinctly:

"I loved it and wish I was still in some place with it."

In other words, Baumann, like yesterday's featured Ernie Fazio, misses being a part of the game. A team's speaker's bureau? A card show guest signer? These men still have stories to tell. Someone needs to tap into this wealth of living history.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What Did Willie Mays and Ernie Fazio Share?

Ernie Fazio is remembered as a steady infielder of the 1960s. However, on August 18, 1963, he shared the same path of a future Hall of Famer.

 "I will never forget my first major league home run off Warren Spahn. It was a great thrill and an accomplishment by another great ballplayer, Willie Mays."

(Thanks to the fine folks at http://www.retrosheet.org/, you can remember Fazio's historic dinger here!)

In a sense, Fazio began the Houston franchise. The team signed Fazio first, hours before they made a deal with Rusty Staub. I asked Fazio about a seldom-mentioned topic in the pre-Astrodome days.

"The humidity and mosquitoes in Houston in 1962 was unbearable. The mosquitoes ate you alive. what I did try was to eat a lot of peanut butter to keep the mosquitoes away. It helped a little. Johnny temple supplied the peanut butter."

Just as Curt Flood stood up for free agency, Fazio is on the front line in the battle for pension rights. He's one of the slighted major leaguers who, prior to 1980, needed four full seasons to qualify for a pension. Baseball signed a new contract granting pensions to anyone with only 43 days of service, but never provided retroactive acknowledgement of the hundreds who deserved the same benefit from seasons past.

"As for the pension plan, I still represent about 1,000 players who played in the major leagues but are not vested in the pension. We are finally making some progress. It is not about money. We are part of history."

Despite baseball's unwillingness to recognize Fazio's service, he harbors no bitterness.

"Baseball was great. I do not think I was ready for the big leagues, going straight from college and playing against the Pittsburgh Pirates in a matter of five days. I wish I was still connected to baseball in some way. The pension is a problem. But I would not change anything. I love the game and always will."

Playing in Houston and Kansas City, Fazio flew under the radar of most baseball media. I found but one account of his Houston toiling at this fun Astros history website.

For the whole picture of the pension fight Fazio and his compatriots are waging, be sure to read Douglas Gladstone's A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB and the Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Yankee Frank Tepedino's Wish for America

Frank Tepedino is a classic. The former Yankee has maintained his calligraphy-quality penmanship. His signature is even more elegant than that captured on his 1971 and 1975 Topps cards. I was dazzled by the content and presentation of his thoughts on the page.

Not known for his power, Tepedino tallied six dingers in his career. Most memorable?

 "First homer off Catfish. Always your first stands out."

Huzzah for the http://www.retrosheet.org/ team, finders of Tepedino's blast off Hunter, June 18, 1971.

He played his first game in 1967 at the age of 19 for the Yankees. How did he cope with the New York media circus?

"In the 1960s, coverage was nowhere like it is now. We were part of history, so we all enjoyed it."

Tepedino joined another fabled New York team after his major league career ended. He's worked as an NYC firefighter. The Brooklyn-born Tepedino was the ideal choice to throw out the first pitch before a playoff game. What memory lingers from that game?

"To see New York and the country stand up as one because of 9/11. I hope we still will do it as a nation."

Tepedino has worked as a motivational speaker, serving with the group Winning Beyond Winning. He's found new meaning in his career in later years.

"My life in baseball was great, but like life, we don't let it sink in till later in life."

Two worthwhile books detailing Tepedino's service to baseball and his city would be
Before the Glory: 20 Baseball Heroes Talk About Growing Up and Turning Hard Times into Home Runs
Yankees: Where Have You Gone?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Baseball Almanac Website Has Famous Fans: Just Ask Pitcher Daniel Hudson

I confess. I'm a fan of Sean Holtz.

What team does he play for? OUR team?

Sean is the mastermind behind Baseball Almanac. I link to Baseball Almanac player pages whenever possible. He collects more than stats. Sean includes college attended, uniform numbers, salaries and other tidbits that connect the dots in a player's career. I use his pages to research a former player before I send a fan letter of questions.

Most often, as noted in "Online Baseball Autograph Museum!", my March 20 post about his extensive autograph collection, Sean includes a signed card to illustrate every possible player page.

Forget the stuff all players spout about never reading their own press. There are guys checking themselves out on the Baseball Almanac website. Imagine getting an autographed card or note out of the blue, without sending a letter or SASE, from a baseball name who knows YOU. Sean has countless fans from Major League Baseball's past and present.

Sean wrote me:

"As for players themselves helping, it isn’t as uncommon as you would think. Last week I received a card from Daniel Hudson signed and inscribed to Baseball Almanac for his page. It's probably the 10th or so I’ve received, unsolicited, from players just adding cards. Others update their college data, uniform numbers, salaries, and a TON more are families (wives and children) doing the same thing for the player."
It's small wonder Hudson sent a personalized autograph. Check out the page Sean has made for him.

Give Sean an e-mail cheer. Let him know he has other fans. Help him fill in the blanks on your favorite player pages. Baseball Almanac is a website worth bookmarking. You'll become a wiser fan. Your collection will thank you, too.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Giants Third Baseman Jim Davenport Baffled?

Jim Davenport could be the subject of a great science experiment.

I've wondered if star players would have the same quantity and quality of baseball memories that their part-time counterparts enjoy. Or, did the top-tier starters spend so much time defending their jobs that they didn't have time to savor each game?

My three questions for slick-fielding Giant Jim Davenport included:

1. What was it like playing in Seals Stadium, as compared to Candlestick Park?

2. What did winning the 1962 Gold Glove mean to you? When did you get the news of the award, and when did you receive the trophy?

3. Aug. 10, 1958 in L.A. Coliseum. You have two homers and five hits in a 12-8 win over the Dodgers. What do you remember about that slugfest? Best day ever as a hitter?

I think my letter shocked him. I included a second sheet of paper for his reply. He began with the customary autograph:

To Tom
Best Wishes
Jim Davenport

Then, he added the intrigue:

"Tom, I don't remember all the things you are talking about but thanks anyway.

Jim Davenport"

Never discount the experiences of any major leaguer. The least-seen player may have been the greatest observer.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Senator OFer Gil Coan Opposes Ebay

Gil Coan played 10 major league seasons. With today's offenses, a speedster like Coan would be an annual resident in the stolen base leaders category.

Even at age 88, he's still fast with his wits. He shared some great memories that I'll be posting this week. Using his own postage and envelope,  Coan gave me a beautifully autographed 8-by-10, circa 1950, of him catching a first pitch in Washington from President Harry Truman. On the back, Coan hand-lettered a description of the event.

Most importantly, Coan ended his note with a plea:

"I ask that you do not sell these items enclosed, because too often I see items I give away on Ebay and do not appreciate that."

During the height of Coan's career, according to Baseball Almanac, he was pulling in a modest $14,000. The expense, and time, of reproducing your own photos is significant for an 80-something. Feeling that a gift you gave is unappreciated?  I can understand how he feels. Thankfully, I didn't see any of his gifted photos being auctioned this week.

Even if you don't agree with me or Gil Coan, know one thing:

They are watching.

Former and current players will slam the door on the hobby. Every month, champion baseball address finder  Harvey Meiselman shares word of another former player wanting a fee. Not for charity, but for the player himself. I'd guess a majority of them have seen their autographs sell online.

When an autograph signer lavishes you with bonuses, send them a thank-you note. Then, proceed with caution as you decide what to do with the signatures. Your decision could change the hobby forever.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Twin Julio Bequer Loves Wikipedia!

Who's the old-timer?

I wrote to Julio Becquer (b. 1931), asking three questions. This 70-something stunned me with his reply.

"Tom - Wikipedia will give the whole history of my career and more.

Julio Becquer"

Really? Here is Mister B's Wikipedia entry, for all you to judge.

What did I ask about? First, how did he learn English after his arrival from Cuba? What coaches or players helped him adapt? Second, I wanted to know about that game-winning grand slam on the Fourth of July, 1961. Lastly, I asked about the secrets of his pinch-hitting successes. How did he prepare during the game for his one late-inning opportunity?

Becquer included a signed photo. His signature still matches the facsimile autograph on the 1959 Topps. I wonder if he's smiling more these days? Those are some serious-looking baseball cards!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bob Locker Salutes Oakland Boss Charlie Finley

That awesome mustache wasn't the only reason I was cheering for Bob Locker with the A's and the Cubs. I wanted a fellow Iowa native to sparkle in the bigs. When he replied, he included a photo noting that we were fellow Iowans.

I asked about his career-high 77 appearances for the 1967 White Sox. Did he ever calculate how many pitches he threw that year, including all the time he spent in the bullpen? Locker replied:

"Those were different times. I remember warming up in the second inning...again in the middle, and still going in in the seventh to close out the game. The mental aspect was the most difficult."

What about 25.1 consecutive scoreless innings in 1968? News to Locker!

"I am astounded...I had such a streak...the media obviously didn't (know) either."

I asked about how Locker concluded his career with Oakland and the Cubs. This meant he was working for two fabled owners, Charlie O. Finley and Chicago's Philip "P.K." Wrigley. Locker wrote:

"Charlie Finley was an amazing guy. One of the great examples of free enterprise and ingenuity. Thanks to Charlie, I have two [World Series] rings and great memories.

"Never met Mr. Wrigley, but he was a benevolent owner. I actually made $53,000 but think I earned my keep in '73. But thanks to Marvin [Miller, player's union president] I make more than that...for the rest of my life."

I name-dropped in the letter. Being a fellow Iowa State alum, I mentioned that I had met Locker's college coach "Cap" Timm once. Then, I pointed out that I lived less than an hour from his old White Sox and Pilots batterymate, Jerry McNertney (who was a college teammate).

Timm's name was circled.

"The reason I had a major league career. Great man!"

Gratitude remains central in Locker's success. Look up "Thanks, Marvin," an impressive website designed to get Marvin Miller elected to the Hall of Fame. Look at the player testimonials. When Cooperstown calls, Miller can say, "Thanks, Bob!" The Iowa native is pitching like the old days. Let's hope baseball pays attention.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bobby Thomson Bows Out At Age 86

Slugger Bobby Thomson, the batsman behind "The Shot Heard 'Round the World" in 1951, has left this world. He was 86. Major League Baseball's first (of many, I hope) tributes can be found here.

In a March 1 blog post, I shared a kind letter from Thomson explaining his nickname, "The Flying Scot."

He wrote "The Shot Heard 'Round the World" (complete with date) for all collectors requesting the inscription. No charge for his autograph, nor the extra tagline. For years, he blessed the hobby world with his humility, kindness and generosity.

Tomorrow isn't guaranteed. Write your heroes TODAY.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Walt Hriniak Helped Hitters Like Dwight Evans and Frank Thomas. Who Coached The Coach?

Walt Hriniak's frustratingly-short career as a backup catcher (1969-70) has no parallel to his years of success as a hitting coach with the Red Sox and White Sox. The difference? He found the perfect coach, someone he'd emulate for years. Once exposed to the wisdom of Charley Lau, Hriniak became a hitting disciple.

Walt worked first as a bullpen coach for the BoSox, serving as a volunteer batting practice pitcher. Promoted to batting coach in 1985, he stayed four seasons before being lured by the White Sox. He served Chicago hitters like Frank Thomas through 1995. To honor his mentor, Hriniak wore the #6 of former ChiSox coach Lau.

Hriniak wrote me:

"Charlie was the best coach I’ve ever been around. He changed the game. I think he belongs in the Hall of Fame. He was a very caring person. He helped so many people. I just was lucky to have been one of them. I loved him. Still do!”

I asked Hriniak, a former Expos minor league manager, how much harder it is to convince a major league veteran to change after years of the same batting stance. He explained:
“Players will listen if you show them a way of getting better. You just have to convince them there is a better way.”
When he signed with Chicago, the media speculated on who baseball's best-paid coaches were. On the issue of the wide gap in team-to-team coach pay, Hriniak responded:

“In the 1980s and ‘90s, coaches in some organizations didn’t make much money. There are a lot of baseball people who think you can’t teach someone to hit. That sounds strange but it’s true. The great organization believes that you can teach someone to hit. Those are the ones who pay coaches well!"
Hriniak worked with great baseball minds, leaders like Gene Mauch and Tony LaRussa. Nevertheless, he credits just one man for the difference he made:
“I enjoyed my time as a coach. I was able to help a lot of people. That’s because of Charlie Lau.”
Be sure to check out this great 2010 profile of Hriniak. In their Hall of Fame acceptance speeches, says the article, Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk and Wade Boggs all thanked Hriniak for his hitting wisdom.

To see what inspired Hriniak all these years, look up Lau's masterpiece, The Art of Hitting .300

Monday, August 16, 2010

'One Iowan To Another' Photo Inscribed

"Tom -- One Iowan To Another."

In the coming week, I'll share who signed a photo to me with this inscription.

Meanwhile, here's a challenge for all the autograph collectors out there, those who are unsure about asking questions. In fact,I predict there's some skeptical hobbyists who are unsure if the signers even read the letters.

Ask for a personalized inscription. Don't wait for the signer to surprise you. Request something made out to YOU, not the generic "2X All-Star" notation. Spell it out for them Maybe you're writing to a fellow alum from your college? Have someone wish you a happy 40th birthday. Make a connection.

See if it works. See if your letter gets read and your request followed. In fact, you might get more of a response than you ever imagined. If you hear from that signer, write them back with a thank-you note. Then, ask a question about their career.

Memories by mail. It's one of the best bargains a baseball fan can find these days.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Catcher Ken Retzer's Clue to Collectors

One of the best replies I've received this year came from Ken Retzer, the Washington Senators catcher. He looked me up and called later to thank me for my letter. Even though he didn't get lots of chances in the majors, he has remained a fan. I wrote about his fine letter in my March 25 post.

Retzer photocopied photos and clippings from his personal scrapbook. He added notations and autographed each one.

One frequent question from newer collectors and some blog readers is:

What do I ask them about? I never saw them play!
Remember the old saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words." Go to Google IMAGES. Search for newspaper clippings. Print out an obscure photo. Or, if you have an old yearbook, find an image there. Even a baseball card could work. Where was the photo taken? Who else is in the shot? Which card is their favorite?

Seeing is believing. Let a retiree see what you're talking about. You may get a story that's been untold for years.

Be sure to check out this account of corresponding with Mr. Retzer from one of Washington's greatest fans! Here's a can't-miss Senators history website.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Pitcher Moe Savransky Savored the 1954 Reds

Moe Savransky squeezed a lifetime of memories out of a one-year major league career. Don’t think Savransky pitched “only” for the 1954 Reds. His recollections could rival any all-star. Savransky wrote:

“In 1948, when I signed with Cincinnati, I signed a major league contract and traveled with the Reds until July 5th and then went to a minor league team to end of the 1948 season. I went to spring every year with the Reds and did well in spring training but in those years they didn’t bring us young up so fast. They preferred for us to get more minor league experience. In 1951. I came up to the Reds from Buffalo in the International League ‘triple A’ after our season was over. They called a cup of coffee. I was in the Army in 1953 (Korean war) and returned to Reds in spring training 1954 and had a great record and was notified when we were heading north to Cincy that I made the team by Gabe Paul the GM and Birdie Tebbetts the mgr. Of course, I was elated. In the day the Reds always played a day before any other (as they were the first big league team). Opening day was exciting and I was in the bullpen.

“When I played amateur ball, I played first base and outfield, as I was a good hitter. In ‘A’ Ball in Sally League I hit .325. The hitting champ hit .326. At Buffalo Bisons AAA I hit .278. At the Reds in 1954, I hit .500, 1 for 2. I could’ve been 2-for-2. I hit a shot to left center in front of the scoreboard. The left fielder was playing out of position in left center and caught the ball. My hit I got off Milwaukee pitcher was Gene Conley. A pretty good right-hander. (Incidentally, also played pro basketball, 6-foot-9).
The out that was caught was off a Hall of Fame pitcher, Robin Roberts of the Phillies, recently passed away. If you look it up, I scored more runs than at-bats, because I was fast. Tebbetts used me for a pinch-runner and scored a couple of times.”
Concerning my Sally League days in 1950, I was 15 wins. I had four shutouts in a row: a 4-hit shutout, 2-hit shutout, a NO-HIT shutout on July Fourth and one-hit shutout. My manager, Gee Gee Walker (ex-major league outfielder) wanted the Reds to bring me up. I was 19 years old. Head scout Pat Patterson said no, he’s young. Let him get more experience.

“My most exciting game I came in relief was against the Philadelphia Phillies. Robin Roberts was pitcher for the Phillies in Philly. The pitch he threw was to Bobby Adams (3rd base). Adams hit in the upper in left field. Roberts proceeded to retire the next 27 batters. I came into the game in the fifth inning. We trailed 3-1. I faced nine hitters, got all of them and left the game for a pinch-hitter. The final score was 3 to 1. It was a thrill to be a part of historical game.”
Moe's recall of the game isn't exact. The fine fellows at http://www.retrosheet.org/ fill in the gaps with their accounts of the Reds-Phils matchup. What's important to remember is that baseball still has Moes, the men who relish every inning they were given. Make the most of their experiences, while they're still here.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cleveland's Jack Heidemann, Teen Shortstop

While many teens are working on their first car (or first beer), Jack Heidemann set his sights higher. The 19-year-old went from first-round draft pick in 1967 to major leaguer at age 19. By age 20, he owned Cleveland's starting shortstop position.

I was intrigued with his youth. Legal drinking ages. Older teammates who might see him more as a little brother than a peer. Would teammates include him in post-game socializing? Heidemann responded:

"My roomie was Eddie Leon, All-American shortstop out of Arizona. Cleveland put him at second base for me to become their shortstop.

Being the youngest on the team, I just hung out...sometimes I got to go...sometimes I was by myself."

Part of Heidemann's stellar 1970 season included a 5-for-5 game. What did he recall?

"5-5 for five-five -- well, I went 0-4 2nd game of doubleheader. Yuh!!!"

Looking at his career stats, I pointed out that his nine career homers were nine more than I hit in Little League. Did he savor details on one or two memorable blasts?

"Blue Moon Odom...Knuckleballer Jack Samford. I probably would have to look up to see when/where I hit 'em."

Thanks to the baseball braintrust at http://www.retrosheet.org/, I did. In order, the nine pitchers Heidemann blasted homers against included:

John Cumberland; Chuck Dobson; Dick Bosman; John "Blue Moon" Odom; Eddie Fisher, Jim Hannan, Ken Frailing, Rudy May; Bill Lee

By the way, Heidemann's autograph still looks like the facsimile on his Topps cards!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pirates Pitcher Ron Necciai Won't Brag


I received those sentiments from Negro League great Buck O'Neill and basketball star Bob Cousy in response to questions.

Ron Necciai, the man who pitched his way to baseball history in 1952, isn't bragging about it. I was stunned when his letter didn't mention the book he stars in: Rocket Ron

That was my biggest question. On May 13, 1952, he struck out 27 batters in an Appalachian League game. The problem? In the days before ESPN or the Internet, how could the world know quickly of such a feat? How fast could word spread? I've seen some tiny minor league attendances, too. Imagine setting a record for only a few hundred people! Necciai's only comment:

"Sporting News and most papers did cover story."

The majors called. However, control problems limited Necciai to just one win. The last-place Pirates didn't help. I found a loss and a no-decision for Necciai against Cincinnati in September (thanks, http://www.retrosheet.org/), in what might have been his finest outing of his one-season stint in the bigs.

"No particular game stands out. Good and bad all the same."

How sad...

Lastly, I asked about his health. He coped with stomach ulcers. A rotator cuff injury ended his career. Has he wondered if his fortune would have been different with today's treatments?

"Medical care given me by Pirates and Branch Rickey Sr. was finest available."

Necciai closed on an optimistic note:

"Baseball is a great way to make a living. I enjoyed every minute of it."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Loved Cardinal Willie McGee? Scout Hal Smith Brought Him To St. Louis!

Fans in the late 1950s seemed to have double vision. Wasn't there a catcher named Hal Smith?

Which one?

Two names. One position. Hal R. Smith wrote a fun letter, acknowledging that he wasn't alone in baseball.

"The first time I met the 'other' Hal, he was with Kansas City and we played them in a pre-season exhibition game. And would you believe -- I was on third base and he picked me off! Of course, I got a little lecture from (manager) Fred Hutchinson for that little event."

I asked about his three hits and six RBI versus the Giants on May 8, 1957. He told me of his fleeting fame:

"The thing I remember about that is this: I was invited to be on Frankie Frisch's post-game show. I figured I'd get a gift of maybe $25 or a pen and pencil or even a pair of slacks, which was usually what they did back then. Well, I got a six pack of Brylcream. I am bald-headed so that really came in handy. I still have a 'five' pack left!!"

Smith worked for years as a Cardinals scout. His insight scouting the Yankees' AAA team compelled the Cardinals to ask for Willie McGee in a trade. Smith remembered:

"When I saw Willie in Nashville, he really impressed me with his speed and his defensive ability and he was a switch-hitter. Whitey Herzog was manager at that time and I knew that Willie was his kind of player."
To learn more about this storytelling catcher, including details on his book, check out his website. By the way, his book is titled The Barling Darling: Hal Smith in American Baseball

Wouldn't you like to have a nickname based on your hometown, too?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Bill Renna Savors Red Sox Pinch-hit Fun

"Big Bill" Renna is still smiling. Just read between the lines of his letter.

His love of the game kept him going, even when pinch-hitting work was all he could find. In 1958, he converted 15 hits into 18 RBI for the Red Sox. Imagine Renna's joy as he recounts one success off the bench:

"Against Washington In Washington, I was put in to pinch-hit. the count was 3-0 -- and I looked down at the third base coach. He gave me the hit sign. Pinky Higgins was our manager and he let me hit. I hit a home run on the next pitch!!!"

Even though his last game for Boston happened more than 50 years ago, Renna still savors every inning.

"I was very fortunate to be able to play pro ball. I wanted to be a ball player from the first time I was a kid!!! I feel bless that I was able to play -- and play in the period of time that I did.

I think it was wonderful."

So are you, Bill.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Seth Swirsky Baseball Correspondence Books Continue to Inspire Collectors, Fans

Never give up. Collectors rejoiced in the 1990s with the publication of the first of three books featuring correspondence from current and former players. Swirsky took fan mail to a whole new level, showing that former players might be eager to provide more than an autograph.
Although the books seemed to be out of print, Seth is selling autographed copies of his books by mail. These books are musts for fans and collectors. Don't assume he has an umlimited supply. The last book was published in 2003.

While the author/songwriter/filmmaker has moved on to non-baseball projects, his website maintains a wealth of baseball material that the author has collected. He presents many of the vintage letters from players on his site.

When I look through Seth’s dazzling trilogy of books, I’m reminded how everyone has a story to tell and share. Then, as I see so many amazing letters from now-deceased correspondents,, I hear the clock ticking. How much baseball history disappears weekly, simply because we aren’t writing and asking in time?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Norm Cash for Minnie Minoso? White Sox Drop the Ball on Pitcher Jake Striker

Cleveland Indians general manager Frank Lane loved a deal. Any deal. He'd swap players like kids trading baseball cards.

On Dec. 6, 1959, he pulled off a seven-player deal with the Chicago White Sox. Pitcher Jake Striker helped sweeten the deal for Chicago. Striker shared his memories of that transaction in a thoughtful letter:

"As for the big trade, I was disappointed for two reasons. First, I was going to a pennant-winning team, which is hard to crack the roster. Second, Cleveland was short on left-handers, so I felt very confident about the 1960 season. However, with "Trader Lane," nothing stayed the same very long.

Back then, and still about the same, you first read about it (the trade) in the paper, then you are notified by mail.

I do think I should have been given a better opportunity to make the White Sox. But that's part of the game.

I enjoyed my career in baseball very much. I played from 1952 through 1962, with two years out for military service.

You get to see and do a lot of things that most people dream about. We had some long bus rides in the early years, but travel improved as you moved up the ladder. You meet a lot of people outside baseball. You get to play with and against some of the great players of the game."

Two relief outings. Just two. Eager to repeat as A.L. champions, the White Sox abandoned Striker. His upbeat attitude over the team's impatience shows that his winning record stretches beyond that sole major league victory.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Jake Striker's Cleveland Dream Came True!

Jake Striker was meant to pitch in the major leagues.

Either the majors, or starring in a Zane Grey western. Gotta love the name!

Striker the minor leaguer remembers the news of the promotion. The opportunity allowed him to chase just one modest dream. He wrote:

"I was playing in San Diego and was told by my manager that I was being called up to Cleveland when our season ended. I cannot say I was overly surprised, as I had a very good 1958 and a decent year in '59. Still, it was a great feeling to be called up, hoping that I would have the opportunity to pitch in Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

That was my childhood dream, to pitch in Cleveland, as I only lived 90 miles southwest of Cleveland."

It happened. At home, at THE PLACE, in front of family members who could share the dream: Striker's first (and only) victory in the bigs.

These days, umpires call time and fetch the historic baseball from a player's "first" anything. A coach can be seen in the dugout inscribing the ball with the feat. Instant souvenir! No such luck for Striker, who wrote:

"No, I did not get the game-winning ball. If I had gone the complete game, I am sure I would have had the ball. I do have a team-signed ball from the 1959 team.

I celebrated my win with my wife and parents and two brothers."
Tomorrow: Baseball's trading deadline just passed. Striker shares what it feels like to be shipped off as part of a blockbuster deal

(Every day, discovering baseball's buried treasures, I'm astounded at http://www.retrosheet.org/. Thanks, guys!)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Did the Tigers Ignore Milt & Frank Bolling?

Milt Bolling exists! With a working address confirmed in a July 26 blog post featuring Baseball Address List compiler and hobby hero Harvey Meiselman, I received a fast, small reply from the former infielder this week.

Small in two ways. First, Bolling offered Dragnet-like Sgt. Joe Friday ("Just the facts, ma'am!") replies to my questions. Secondly, I was struck by Bolling's TINY handwriting. His autograph would double as an eye exam.

Bolling's second baseball career came as a Boston Red Sox scout from 1965-94. Did he have even one or two discoveries that he remembers most, that he's proudest of?

"All my signees made me proud!!!"

Most importantly, I wanted to know about his relationship with his younger  brother Frank, a major league mainstay from 1954-66. Had they dared imagine having joint careers in pro ball someday?

"We never dreamed of it as kids."

The sad part of Milt Bolling's reply revolved around 1958. With Milt at short and Frank at second, they gave the Detroit Tigers only the third brotherly double play combination in baseball history -- the first-ever in the American League! What recognition did the team provide?

"No ceremony. Not a big deal in the paper."

Since the 1980s, team media relations departments have churned out pre-game notes. Imagine getting more than 20 pages of statistics, anniversaries and anecdotes to use, any way you want. After the game, the same PR staff passes out a game wrapup packet. Often, you'll get just as many pages. Reporters could sleep (or eat and drink) through the game, never paying attention. The team does almost everything, minus putting your byline atop your story.

Additionally, teams make every game a made-for-television event. Near-perfect game pitcher Armando Galarraga gets to present the lineup card to controversial umpire Jim Joyce the next day. Galarraga receives a new car for his sportsmanship. Every second seems like a photo opp.

Baseball didn't always celebrate every moment. Reporters were all about scores and stats. History escaped their attention. The Bolling brothers gave Detroit a moment in the spotlight. There's still time for the team to thank them.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Don't Miss ESPN Doug Glanville's MVP Memoir 'The Game From Where I Stand'

Doug Glanville is the must-read author of the 2010 baseball season.

I’m stunned by The Game from Where I Stand: A Ballplayer's Inside View

Glanville isn’t your typical former player-turned-talking head. His book cover shows only his glove. There’s no 16-page photo section (the pictorial I'd dub 'Me, Myself and I')  in the book’s middle. The title is a takeoff on his years (1996-2004) in center field for the Cubs, Phillies and Rangers. He’s a respectful commentator on life as a major leaguer, on and off the field. His book even includes an index! The two most-mentioned players, notes the index, are Shawon Dunston and Randy Johnson.

Funny and insightful, Glanville charts new territory ignored by other players who slap their names on book covers. This man’s a fan, someone who loves the game. Glanville owns every word. He isn’t a cliché-ridden, phone-it-in, let-the-ghostwriter excuse for an author. Readers will feel like they’re teammates. Even family. One Glanville revelation includes a bombshell for pre-game autograph collectors:

“Maybe your willingness to sign had something to do with your signature. If you hadn’t made the adjustment as a rookie to cut down on the letters in your name, you weren’t learning. My name is fairly long, but after signing thousands of cards upon being drafted, I cut out more than half of the letters. It became more of a symbol than an actual signature.”

Glanville wrote me when I asked a question about the book:

“I have been truly inspired by the positive feedback and I am working hard to get out there what I think is a relevant work on the human side of the game. It is organic, but it has been gaining. So far, I have been able to keep up with signing any mail or books that come my way.”
That’s right. Baseball’s academic ambassador is inviting readers who want their books autographed to send them to him. Anyone wanting their copy of The Game From Where I Stand autographed can send it with appropriate return postage to:

Doug Glanville, 1658 N. Milwaukee Ave Chicago IL 60647.

Glanville is a faithful Twitter correspondent for fellow baseball devotees. I love his website, as he shares his New York Times columns and other writings. If you want to feel good again about being a fan, read Doug Glanville.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Mark Twain Today: Sign Fan Mail or 'Die'?

"The report of my death was an exaggeration."

-- Mark Twain

No, the superstar author wasn't trying to avoid getting fan mail by faking his own death. He just cleared up a mistaken reporter who confused Twain with an ill relative in London.

There's more confusion over the motives of several retired baseball players. Fan mail has been returned with a "Deceased" notation. Not a "refused" or "RTS." As if the hobby world will cease and desist only when they think the signer is dead, suddenly making a rumor real?

According to http://www.sportscollectors.net/, the latest mystery man has been John Goryl, former infielder and Twins manager. One check with baseball address king Harvey Meiselman clouds the picture. According to Harvey, Goryl moved across town.

The humorous part of this development mirrors any Mark Twain story. Will a baseball retiree stop getting pension checks after trying to throw autograph collectors off the trail? Could Major League Baseball announce the "death" to the universe?

Harvey noted that more than one collector-customer of his Baseball Address List has found a retiree returning mail "deceased," even when the person is anything but. Health problems could be a factor. Or, the former baseball player feels he's given enough back to fans, as was the case of Bill White.

The message for this disturbing trend is clear: don't assume willing signers will give out autographs forever, even when they've been out of the spotlight for years. Those tasting anonymity may be the first to put their pens down.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Meet a Teammate-Fan of Teen Al Kaline!

Bob "Red" Wilson spent the 1950s marveling at his job and his co-workers. Today, he's still making sense of it all.

For starters, he witnessed the arrival of a teen teammate named Al Kaline, who jumped straight from high school to the majors. When did he get a hunch about future Hall of Fame membership for the Tigers phenom?

Wilson replied:

"He could run, throw and hit and was only 18!"

Wilson's biggest amazement came over his success versus the New York Yankees. For those 21 matchups, Wilson batted a sizzling .354. He served as "designated" catcher for Frank Lary. Wilson saw his batterymate earn a 16-3 record against the noted rivals, in addition to the nickname "Yankee Killer."

The former catcher summed up:

"Frank Lary and I had no magic. Things just seemed to happen. We both were competitive and enjoyed playing together.

It was a thrill to play baseball in the American League. While the challenge to do well was always a discomfort, you soon realize that condition is present in any job you take pride in succeeding at!"

To learn more about Wilson's career, check out the masterful bio by Jim Sargent at the SABR BioProject website.

The one unsolved mystery about Wilson's 1958 season? Where are his arms? Was he baseball's first contortionist catcher?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Minor League Front Offices Yield Buried Treasure for Autograph Collectors

The minor league season has one month left. Comb the minor league front offices for autograph signing bonuses.

Here in Iowa, I know the Iowa Cubs have Nate Teut in corporate sales. Pitcher Teut’s “cup of coffee” came with the 2002 Florida Marlins.

I wrote to him when doing an article for the team yearbook about minor league cards. Teut (pronounced TOYT) had great insights about how it feels to get your first-ever card, even if it’s in a minor league set.

He’s a class act, as evidenced by his page on the Iowa Cubs website.

There are former players stuck at desks for four more weeks. I think they’d enjoy nothing better than seeing some fan mail at their workplace. reliving more exciting times. Ask them a question. I’m betting the response you get will be big league, all the way.