A Meaningful NY Yankee Autograph Collection? ‘The Lost Collector’ Found a Way!

Check out this 2005 TTM success from Phil Rizzuto. Says A.J. — “I sent him a nice note and a few memories I had of him, including the way my Italian grandmother and I used to enjoy the way he talked about food on air. I also included a check for a few dollars in hopes that he would sign my card. Not only did he sign my card, but sent a small signed photo (It read: “Tell Nonna I sure would love to have some of those ravioli”) and sent my check back and wrote on it “No Charge, AJ. Scooter #10″. It just goes to show that a sincere letter can go a long way.”

Reader feedback is the best. I love writing about collectors, because it inspires more stories. We can learn so much from each other.

Take A.J., for example. A humble guy, he asked me to withhold his last name. All names aside, you should know him as “The Lost Collector.” This talented fellow blogger shared his personalized plan for collecting what he cares about — along with the tale of how he returned to the hobby after getting overwhelmed with card choices and other challenges. I’m grateful that he tells his story in the following e-interview.

Q: I love the Yankees project. What was the inspiration? You acquired all the signed cards yourself TTM? What was the time span?

A: I’ve been interested in signed Yankees cards via TTM for as long as I can remember. Back in high school (early 2000s), I had TTM success from Gil McDougald (on 1959 Topps) and Mel Stottlemyre (on a 1972 Topps).  I loved having vintage cards signed, and three years ago I had the idea to try and get a signed Topps card of a different Yankees player for as long as Topps has been in the business. I could never send out requests with any consistency, but having this project as my goal kept me interested in the hobby and sending out requests on a regular basis. I had to acquire the cards, research who to send to from which years, and then take the chance of sending. I did in fact acquire all of the cards myself via TTM requests (and many other cards too that didn’t make it into the project). I also managed to complete the project without sending to any players who require fees, which just goes to show how many generous signers there are still out there.

 Q: Steve Kraly is Mr. Binghamton. What kind of response did he supply?

A: I’m glad you asked. I did in fact mention to Mr. Kraly where I grew up, and he wrote me a very nice note back, about two pages in length. He told me a lot about his time playing in Binghamton, such as his stats before being called up. He shared other fond memories, including the fact that he met his wife there. He still lives there and stays involved in the game by being the official scorer of the Binghamton Mets (Double A). I sent him two 1955 Topps cards, asking him to keep one, but he signed both and returned them to me.

Q: THE LOST COLLECTOR is a great title. What’s been different — and better — in your second time around as a hobbyist?

A: The second time around, I feel like I’m a lot more mature and focused (despite my blog title). Back in my early days of collecting, I’d pull a card and immediately look at what it was “worth” in Beckett. That has changed now. I can’t tell you the last time I’ve looked in a price guide. It’s more fun now because the cards have a lot more personal worth to me. I still feel “lost” at times based on all the card issues I missed while I was out of collecting (the certified auto craze and game-used cards really happened while I was gone), but it gives me something to look forward to in trades – knowing that there are so many Yankees cards out there I haven’t seen and don’t own.

Q: I love how you quiz minor leaguers about a future goal. Who’ve been some of the best answers?

I often ask a player who they admired growing up, and what pitcher/batter they most look forward to facing. I get a lot of the usual suspects – Jeter, Pujols, Griffey.

 Q: What’s been the most fun, satisfying parts of having a blog?

A: Having a blog has kept me interested in collecting. Not only does it give me a place to trade and acquire new cards, but it’s a daily activity in the hobby that doesn’t have to revolve around buying new cards or visiting a shop. Every day, I scroll through my blogroll and check out what everyone is talking about. In this sense, it keeps me interested day in and day out.

Sometimes, your
all-time favorite
player still signs
TTM, A.J. found!

Q: Current autograph project/focus/goal?

A: My focus lately has been minor leaguers/prospects. I follow the Yankees minor league system closely, so when I am able to get a TTM success from guys I’m a fan of – whether or not they actually make it to the majors – is an awesome feeling. I would like to start a new project soon, but for now I’m enjoying sending to minor leaguers. I have a five-month-old son, and have gotten a few players to personalize cards to him (Pat Neshek and Virgil Trucks have done it), so perhaps I’ll shift the focus away from my collection and start getting cards signed for him. It could be cool for him to have when he’s older.

 Q: Advice for almost-lost autograph collectors, those who may be getting disillusioned with
lowTTM response rates, scribbly signatures, guys who charge, etc.? Do you see any silver
linings to the dark clouds in the autograph hobby?

A” It’s definitely getting tougher and tougher. I’d advise anyone struggling with the hobby to think of your own project – one that’s both attainable and challenging (i.e. trying to collect a signed team set of 1987 Topps). I’ve never been so inspired to send out requests than I was when I only need a few more cards to complete my own project. It kept me interested and focused, and I’m not sure I’d be TTMing today if it wasn’t for my project’s completion driving me. Lastly, don’t send anything you can’t afford to lose. There’s always the risk, no matter who you send to.

Coming Monday: Remembering Twins pitcher Dave Boswell

Two Shy Cardinals Sidestep Questions

Posted July 19th, 2011 by Tom Owens and filed in Bob Sykes, John Costello, Ron Santo: A Perfect 10, Steve Kraly, Wilbur Howard
Sykes has toned down
his “S,” but has the
same autograph today.

Welcome to Update Day!

For starters, I received three consolation prizes in my mailbox in the last week. Two pitchers and an outfielder were good for autographs only, not acknowledging questions I included.

Bob Sykes signed my letter, then included an autographed printout of his favorite Bible verse (Phil. 4:13).

Fellow hurler John Costello sent me an autographed Upper Deck card.

Brewer and Astro outfielder Wilbur Howard penned his flamboyant signature on my letter.

Each answered. That’s promising. I’m not suggesting the trio would never answer any questions. The only thing I learned is that I asked the wrong questions at the wrong time.

********

Thanks to all of you who sent positive feedback about my conversation with 1953 Yankee Steve Kraly.

Collector Andrew Scott sent scans of what he created for Kraly. Impressive! Check them out:

As more current and former players fear blank index cards, customs are a great alternative. Make your own collectible. Or, make friends with artistic hobbyists like Andrew.

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Lastly, there’s hope for Cubs fans who haven’t gotten their copies of Ron Santo: A Perfect 10 yet. Did you miss my review? Here it is from June 17.

The nearest Iowa Walgreens store had copies on the counter, discounted from $24.95 to $14.95. I’ve heard that Jewel Foods has been carrying them at a sale price, too. It’s a book worth owning — and sharing!

Coming Wednesday: Teammate Joe Gibbon remembers Roberto Clemente.

Steve Kraly, 1953 Yankee, Honors Fans

Posted July 6th, 2011 by Tom Owens and filed in 1953 New York Yankees, Binghampton Mets, Casey Stengel, Steve Kraly
A card of one meant gum for all in 1955!

Steve Kraly is more than a member of the 1953 New York Yankees. He’s a baseball legend in Binghamton, New York.

His record-setting season of 19 wins and 19 complete games got him his promotion to the majors. He’s been official scorer for the Binghamton Mets so long that fans honored him in 2008. In fan voting, Kraly was the winner in the team’s “Choose the Next Bobblehead” ballot.

He didn’t take the honor lightly. At the game’s bobblehead giveaway, he spoke briefly to the crowd.

“I was very humble,” he recalled. “I dedicated the figurine to the fans. I pointed to both dugouts and told the teams, ‘We’re only as good as our fans.’ Fans make the difference.”

Kraly lives in hobby infamy as #139 in the 1955 Topps set. He says that “$2,500 and a case of Topps bubblegum” were payment for his appearance. I asked if the facsimile signature is simply reproduced from the contract he signed as a minor leaguer. Nope. He remembers signing a facsimile card for the signature reproduction.

Kraly’s voice swells with pride as he tells of being selected by Topps to be part of the “Authentic Signature” series in the Heritage set. Kraly remembered that he was asked to sign only 50 of his 450 cards in red ink.

Kraly speculates that his 1955 Topps and his inclusion on the fabled 1953 team combine to keep the fan mail coming. How many letters come? “Lots,” he says. “I get some almost every day.”

The ex-Yank sounds stunned that some collectors include money with an autograph request. “I send back money,” he explains. “I write and ask the collector to donate this to their favorite charity. Or, I suggest they could donate to the children’s home here.”

The Children’s Home once served as an orphanage. Kraly’s late wife Irene was one of many children benefiting from the home’s services. In her honor, Kraly benefits the Home.

I said, “Casey Stengel and the Mets bought your contract in 1961. But you gave up baseball because of her.”

I could hear Kraly’s smile. “I had worked one day at IBM. I came home. She had the news. She asked me when we were leaving. I said, ‘You and the two kids are more important.'”

Kraly’s fondness extends to Stengel. “The best manager ever,” Kraly says. “He treated everyone equally. At that time, there was just eight teams in each league.” If an arm injury (blood clot) hadn’t short-circuited his career, Kraly thinks he could have been a part of the Bronx Bombers for 4-7 years.

Kraly pauses. His tone changed. “Now, there’s 30 teams. But there’s not that many good major leaguers. Today’s players are spoiled.” I imagined Kraly’s harsh assessment of current autographing habits and fan relations.

More than a half-century later, the fan mail still comes. One letter Kraly received was from Kenneth Hogan, a New York City firefighter. Hogan wanted some information for the book he was writing: Batting 10th For the Yankees: Recollections of 30 Yankees You May Not Remember.

Kraly called Hogan. They spoke. The former pitcher was so pleased with the finished results that he offers ordering information for the title.

Anyone who writes to Kraly will remember him. Crisp handwriting, with every letter legible. Know that your letter will get read. One way to offer your thanks in advance for Kraly’s guaranteed reply would be shown by sending the lefty a dollar or two with your letter. Earmark the donation for the local children’s home. The veteran pitcher’s wife has passed away, but the love hasn’t. Kraly is still pitching for Binghamton’s kids — including the girl named Irene.

Coming Friday: Why Harvey Meiselman’s 2011 baseball address list is the best yet.