MLB.com raises eyebrows with quiz: ‘Can you guess which star’s autograph this is? Are those letters or squiggles?’

Bryant signing autographs 2
Kris Bryant, in a 2018 minor league rehab stint, signs quickly for a crowd, giving them his abbreviated signature. (Photo by Minda Haas Kuhlmann)

The April 8 quiz of the day on MLB.com is worth pondering. Eric Chesterton brought up a couple of interesting questions about the penmanship of today’s major leaguers.

Chesterton praises MLB stars for penning nearly identical signatures every time. However, he adds, “But the ability to generate identical signatures every time doesn’t mean those signatures are ever legible.”

Check out Chesterton’s 20 autographed baseballs. See what you think.

I think I might be writing thank-you letters to current players who take the time to spell it all out for me. Legible signatures are an endangered species.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frank ‘The Original One’ Thomas Still Signing TTM Autographs at Age 91

Frank Thomas 1954 Bowman
Bowman seemed to use the player contract signature of Frank Thomas in 1954, as hinted by the middle initial inclusion. More than 60 years later, Thomas maintains that same proud penmanship!

While we’re waiting for Major League Baseball to resume, let it be known that Baseball By the Letters is back!

First of all, here’s an update from “The Original One.” Yes, THAT Frank Thomas. The three-time All-Star, now age 91, briefed me with a fun weekend phone conversation.

Through-the-mail autograph collectors haven’t forgotten Thomas. “I’m getting 6 to 10 letters a day,” he said. Thomas said that nearly every autograph request comes with his requested $5 donation. “I think I’m getting third- and fourth generation requests. I signed for kids who became parents. Their kids write me, too. It’s like a continuing cycle.”

Thomas uses autograph donations to support two charities benefiting kids with cancer. Famed Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly encountered Thomas at a golf tournament in the 1990s. He invited Thomas to go with him on a hospital visit to a kids’ cancer ward. Since then, Thomas has kept up a correspondence with young cancer survivors he’s met. Of course, letters from young patients who’ve become healthy adults give Thomas tons of satisfaction.

Anyone enclosing an extra card for Thomas in an autograph request letter should be pleased to know that Thomas shares autograph cards at hospital visits with any young patient who wants one.

Collectors who listen to sports radio have found Thomas as a guest throughout the years. His insights about baseball make him sound like he’s ready to take the field for the 2020 season.

If there is a season, “It scares me,” Thomas said. “What if one player gets the virus? Then, there goes the whole team. Owners are trying to keep TV revenue for this year. However, I don’t think players will be eager to take the risk.”

Concerning lost player wages, Thomas added: “I’d always have my salary spread over the whole year. That way, I’d have something to feed the kids with.”

Since the start of his career in 1951, Thomas always considered autographs part of his job. “I never went to movies on the road,” he said. “I always thought movies would hurt my eyes. So, I brought bags of fan mail with me.”

That same attitude translated to in-person signings, too. “My wife sat in the car with all the kids for two hours after home games at Forbes Field,” Thomas (father of eight) remembered. “They knew that I pledged to sign an autograph for anyone who asked (as long as everyone lined up). I’d stay at the ballpark until the last fan who asked got his autograph.”

These days, Thomas sells autographed photos to help his charities, too. For $10, Thomas offers a photo of himself with 18 ex-Pirates, or a picture of the Sports Illustrated cover that made him the first-ever Pirate to appear on the magazine.

For $12, Thomas will sign and send a photo showing all of his baseball cards through the years. The rarest photo he offers is a “back to back to back to back” shot from 1961. On June 8, 1961, Cincinnati Reds pitchers gave up four consecutive homers to four Milwaukee Braves: Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Joe Adcock, then Thomas. The autographed version costs $22.

To get an autograph, send your donation and a SASE to Frank Thomas, 4202 Lenox Oval, Pittsburgh, PA 15237-1659.

Would Charlie Brown respond to your TTM autograph request?

Think twice about the letter you’re sending to a current or former player.

Is it the same “form letter” you created long ago, one that used to get you a good response, only okay now?

Do you think it doesn’t matter what you write, or that no one ever reads the letters? The player will either sign, or not sign?

Please, reconsider. Each letter costs $1.10 in postage now. Plus paper and envelopes, not counting the card or photo you might enclose.

Tell those letter recipients WHY. Why do you want an answer?

The late Virgil Trucks once told me: “In the letters, they try to tell me all about my career. They tell me things they think I don’t know, but I do.” Translated, the wise Tiger hurler meant that he wasn’t impressed by letters filled with his stats.

Years ago at a hobby show, Al Kaline spoke with me a minute. He was impressed when I said I could note all the places where he received mail. I began: care of the Hall of Fame, c/o the Tigers, c/o the TV station where he broadcasts. 

Kaline sighed and nodded. Then he raised his eyebrows.

“Don’t forget about my home address,” he groaned.  “I get so many fan letters there that our property tax statement got lost. We keep the fan mail in bushel baskets, and the tax statement got lost in a pile of all the autograph requests.”

Players, current or retired, still have expectations about a letter. Why should you deserve a response?

Here’s some initial ideas:

  1. Tell the reason for writing. For instance, the autograph will help you complete a set. Even a team set. That neutralizes the fear of, “You want MY autograph to sell on eBay?” Players have set goals. They might relate to helping you meet a goal, too.
  2. Tell why this card is special. (No. Don’t list its book value.) Just tell how you got it, or how it made you feel. What do you like most about the card photo?
  3. Tell why this player matters. Did you see him play in person? Was he the first game you saw on your big-screen TV? Did your older brother or dad like that player, too? Do you remember him from the minors?

I think 2 to 3 extra sentences would make your case. Don’t fib. Do be yourself. The truth shall set you free, and get you more autographs (quite possibly).

Even mail-starved Charlie Brown may be skeptical about some of the standard “fill in the blank” letters that some collectors rehash. You want a personal gift from someone in baseball? Try being personal yourself. 

 

 

Return envelopes? Hurler Mike Caldwell pitches possible SASE solution

“I like to taste food, not glue.”

— Pitcher Mike Caldwell

Caldwell’s Facebook memo to collectors has appeared on www.sportscollectors.net and throughout hobby forums. He brought up great suggestions. Caldwell has reasonable rules for TTM autographs. 

Besides, anyone who’ll keep signing for free, stating out loud that collectors don’t need to enclose money, should be given extra attention.

One request that caught my eye first was Caldwell’s wish that collectors stop using envelopes you have to lick. 

Don’t forget that www.baseball-almanac has a huge collection of autographs. Each signature is displayed on each player’s personal page.

My first concern was the empty envelope. Anyone who’s gotten an empty SASE knows that special disappointment. What might have been inside? 

Did someone not get the memo on how a self-sealing envelope works?

Sure, the self-seal SASE will be more expensive. But, once it is sealed, it stays sealed.

If you want to try self-seal envelopes, consider adding a sentence at the end of a letter. Something like: “I’m grateful and eager to have your autograph. In fact, I’ve enclosed a special envelope for your reply. Just remove the paper strip, and your signature will be safely on its way!”

Readers, please let me know what type of envelope you prefer using. Have you had problems with the other kind of envelope?

 

 

Charging for TTM autographs? Who gets the money? Baseball Address List creator Harvey Meiselman weighs in on hot hobby topics

Talk about hobby hope! The 2019 Baseball Address List will help ring in my new year.

His letter to past address list buyers got me psyched for the long winter. As usual, Harvey’s adding features and updates to his 2019 edition. For instance, this volume will have a list of more than 250 baseball names who are now charging for TTM autographs.

Whoa! How many?

“Yes, over 250 players are now charging,” Harvey said.  “Some are donating the money to charity, but most are keeping the money themselves. They see the value of baseball autographs on eBay and places like that and want to get in on the action and make some money on their signatures. No big surprise with what PastPros is doing with a lot of the lesser-known MLB players. Charging ridiculous fees (they make almost as much on a handling charge as the players make on a signature) and all requests have to go through their company in Canada so it takes a long time. I hear a lot of complaints from my customers about them.”

I asked about high-end autograph fees (as someone who has never paid by mail for any autograph). Harvey rattled off examples: “Lou Brock used to charge $85 a signature but he is no longer able to sign due to health reasons. Orlando Cepeda gets $60 per signature. Roger Clemens gets $100 per signature. Reggie Jackson gets $89 for a signature. Whitey Ford gets $40. Pete Rose gets $100 per signature. Nolan Ryan gets $90.There are a few that get over $30 per signature but most are in the $10-25 range.”

How can Harvey often update addresses of moved players so quickly? He has address-hunting experience that runs far beyond his days in the hobby. “My search engine costs me $400 a month and is updated every week,” he said.” It was the same search engine I used when I was a skip tracer at a Florida bank. That’s why my lists are so good.”

To learn more about Harvey’s address lists (baseball is just one of many sports he covers), go to www.SportsAddressLists.com.

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