Al Rosen: The First Ryan Braun

Is Ryan Braun paying Al Rosen nickname rent?

Long before Braun was known as “The Hebrew Hammer,” the 1950s Cleveland Indians slugger owned the moniker.

Don’t ask Rosen. He’s proud of his Jewish heritage. He just doesn’t know how the nickname appeared.

Did it come from a Cleveland sportswriter? From a teammate? Or, did he earn the title during his minor league days?

“I have no idea,” he wrote.

The four-time All-Star, who claimed two league home run titles and the 1953 American League MVP award, had to wait his turn for the third base job. Kenny Keltner held the post through 1949.

How did Rosen explain his breakout season of 1950, which featured 37 homers and 116 RBI? What made the difference?

Having a chance to play regularly,” he explained. “Check minor league stats.”

Explaining the nickname will have to come later. I hope to make “Flip” (Rosen’s first nickname earned as a teen) do just that.

Theories, anyone?

Baseball By The Letters Makes Headlines

I confess. I like Bull Durham. I like “Crash” Davis. Whether it’s
“Nuke” or Annie, Crash explains himself. He states his beliefs.

When the hometown newspaper showed interest in Baseball By The Letters, I hoped that I could be as persuasive. I want people to know all that’s good about baseball. There are so many stories waiting to be told. Stories to be shared.

This was the resulting feature. I’m grateful to Greg Eckstrom, editor of the News-Republican for his fine coverage. I hope you like it, too.

Learning from Veteran Collectors

One of the greatest aspects of autograph collecting is how collectors help each other. As I re-entered the hobby, I’ve sought advice and inspiration from the hobby’s stalwarts.

I’ve long followed the progress of Andrew Martin on hobby websites. He’d post often when he had a success. I wanted to know more about his career as a collector. It seems I found a kindred spirit.

Andrew wrote:

“I have been doing TTM since 1990 and have shifted my primary goal from receiving and autograph to getting back a cool note, letter, or phone call.

I have two returns that stick out for me. The first was a letter I got from Carl McNabb back in 2006. Carl played in one game in 1945 with the Tigers, with one at bat, and that was the entirety of his major league career. I had asked him a few questions about his career and he responded with a two page letter just going off on how if his Tigers’ manager, Steve O’Neill hadn’t had so many favorites, he would have had more of an opportunity. He told me that even at his age (then about 90), if he was given another opportunity to play, he would do it again.

It had been 60 years since his debut and he still thought about the what-ifs on a daily basis. I was blown away to find out how much of an impact something like that could have on a person.

Another favorite is actually something that happened just last week. I had the privilege of having a 30-40 minute conversation with Carl Erskine on the phone and heard many wonderful stories about his playing career; in particular the first time he met Jackie Robinson.

My “thing” has become researching and corresponding with lesser known players. Though they may not have put up All-Star numbers, they often have the best stories and have a greater appreciation for what they were able to experience.”

I tip my collector cap to the hobby vets like Andrew.

Andrew is sharing with more than collectors. He’s begun collecting what he learns to create biographies of the former players he encounters. See what he discovered about 1970s White Sox hurler Steve Kealey.

Ken Retzer: John F. Kennedy’s Batterymate

Many people catch the President, on TV, even at a rally.

Ken Retzer caught John F. Kennedy at a ballpark in 1963.

Retzer, starting catcher for the Washington Senators, received the 1963 season’s ceremonial first pitch from JFK.

The Illinois-born receiver enjoyed another milestone that year. Behind the plate for baseball’s 100,000th-ever game, Retzer handled the historic ball that would be displayed in Cooperstown’s Hall of Fame.

I was fascinated to see Retzer’s success in hitting knuckleballers like Hall of Famer Early Wynn. He wrote me:

“I was a line drive hitter,few strikeouts. Just 31 in 1961. So that helps to hit all pitchers. Knuckleballers were hard to catch, almost like catching a butterfly.”

He seemed to wear a different uniform number yearly. Why?

“Any time I veteran player would join the team, I gave up my uniform. The last was #14 for Gil Hodges the manager.”

Twins fans should know that Retzer played a role in the team’s 1965 American League championship. When catchers Earl Battey and Jerry Zimmerman held out, owner Calvin Griffith called Retzer as a bargaining chip. Signing Retzer, who performed admirably throughout spring training, convinced the other two catchers to ink new contracts. Unfortunately, Retzer was cut a day before the season began.

Retzer deserved a World Series. He’s a World Champion autograph signer, giving all-star treatment to every fan who writes. Ask any Senators fan.

Sending thanks to autograph signers

Thank you, Corey Hovanec.

The next autograph I ask for may be Corey Hovanec’s. Corey, without playing a single inning, may be responsible for one of the biggest victories of the 2010 season for collectors.

Corey’s post on the message board grabbed the attention of 585 collectors in less than three days.

How? By suggesting a cost-cutting, time-saving way to say thanks.

For years, collectors have known that autograph request letters need politeness. Ask nicely for a signature, then thank the signer. But some signers are in a league of their own. Handwritten letters. Photos they provide. Photocopied articles recounting a career highlight.

Corey went to, finding 100 business marketing postcards that could be customized with a simple “thank you.” Corey found a special, getting 100 free, just paying about $6 for shipping and handling. That’s a deal, considering that the Post Office wants 3 cents for a blank government postcard.

The benefits continue. Easier to write than a letter. Easier for someone sorting lots of fan mail to read. Less paper to handle. Only 28 cents in postage, not 44 cents.

That’s not the clincher. Sending a thank-you after the fact, after the autograph, sends a clear message. It says, “I’m not being polite to con an autograph out of you. I expect nothing more in return. I’m truly grateful.”

Help the next hobbyist by keeping a surprised signer signing. As fans collect autographs, former players can collect our thank-you postcards. Two great hobbies.

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