New baseball stamps coming!

I just saw this great pair of stamps coming in June.

I know, FOREVER stamps seem easiest, protecting against the inevitable postal increases. Adding a penny stamp (or more!) to each envelope is a huge annoyance.

However, I’m a believer that retired players pay attention.

In fact, I’ll be grabbing a quantity of the cowboy stamps, too. I’d say that nearly all baseball alums age 70 and above are likely to smile when seeing Roy Rogers or Gene Autry again. (Maybe the younger retirees played for Autry?!?)

I could send out more letters each week. Unfortunately, my increased quantity would make my quality suffer. I try to make every contact count.

I want each baseball name I contact to know I’m a person. I am not a robotic autograph collector mass-mailing the multitudes. A thoughtful effort heightens my chances for a personalized response.

How do you stand out in a former player’s mailbox?

Slugging Billy Pierce, White Sox star lefty

Pitcher Billy Pierce did his job, on the mound and at the plate.

The seven-time All-Star lefty registered 211 career victories from 1945-64. He raised a few eyebrows at bat, too. In 1959, Pierce ended just one homer short of hitting for the cycle!

“About the game in Cleveland, the guys couldn’t believe it,” Pierce wrote.

For a pitcher with 24 two-hit games and four three-hit performances as a HITTER, Pierce didn’t gush about the idea of a designated hitter taking his turn.

“To me, the D.H. would have taken a lot of fun out of the game; also a lot of strategy.”

Pierce has an array of amazing statistics to ogle. I checked out his league leads in wins, strikeouts and complete games, but chose to ask about a 1955 ERA crown, an A.L.-best 1.97.

“Back in the 1950s, when pitching nine innings was the norm, an ERA (in my opinion) was the best way of judging a pitcher. As you might guess, my ERA in 1955 was one of my proudest accomplishments.”

Before writing Mr. Pierce, I found a stellar profile of the White Sox workhorse on Baseball Almanac.

Pierce roomed with Nelson Fox for 11 seasons. When Pierce’s friend died of cancer in 1975, Pierce dedicated himself to Chicago Baseball Cancer Charities.

“Nellie Fox gave 100 percent at bat and on the field at all times. Also, he was a great team player on and off the field.”

Statues of Fox and Pierce live at U.S. Cellular Field, awaiting fans attending Chicago White Sox games. Pierce’s statue may be bronze, but his heart is gold.

J.W. Porter Remembers Tiger Stadium

J.W. Porter appreciated every game. Active from 1952-59, he converted to catching to prolong his career. In the 1950s, he played six different positions while collecting some keen baseball insights.

He wrote…

“Tiger Stadium was the perfect stadium. Fair to both pitcher and hitter. What made it perfect, however, was that it was perfect for the fan. Not a bad seat in the place and you felt you could reach out and touch the players.”

In 1958, one of Porter’s Cleveland teammates was a young Roger Maris.

“Roger was a great teammate on and off the field. He had a fine rookie year and should never have been traded. It was surprising to everyone what he did in 1961. I guess it was a case of a player finding the perfect park for his particular swing.

“He would probably hit 90 homers in new Yankee Stadium.”

Although Porter uncorked just eight homers in his major league career, two blasts seemed sweetest.

“One of my homers was an extra-inning pinch-hit off Billy O’Dell. That was my only walk-off homer. The one I’ll remember the most, however, was against Don Larsen, the first game he pitched the next year following his perfect game.”

Porter is one of the dwindling group of St. Louis Browns survivors. Most of all, he seems one of baseball’s most grateful alums.

“Thanks for asking,” he signed.

My pleasure, J.W.

Bob Oldis: 8 Decades in Pro Baseball

Bob Oldis is a baseball time machine.

His minor league playing career began in 1949. Oldis is one of baseball’s 1950s inspirations. After losing his spot with the Washington Senators in 1955, he toiled through four more minor league seasons before reappearing as a Pittsburgh Pirate in 1960, providing the late-innings defense needed for a World Championship.

Even in later years, Oldis remained a force behind the plate. When Maury Wills stole a record 104 bases in 1962, he was thrown out just 13 times. Oldis nailed him twice — in one game!

The Iowan-born receiver parlayed his baseball knowledge into a lengthy career as a coach and scout.

In uniform for the first-year Montreal Expos in 1969, the former coach was asked how he feels about the team being transplanted to Washington, D.C.

“Only thing to do. Montreal is a hockey town,” he explained.

As a scout, are there one or two signings or discoveries he’s proudest of?

“Bill Gullickson. Shane Rawley.”

Wearing a Phillies uniform in 1962, Oldis achieved his only career home run, a dinger off Pete Richert in Dodger Stadium.

“High fastball,” he began. “White towels line up at dugout when I got back!”

When asked about a greatest career thrill, he looks to the future, not the past.

“Being in pro baseball eight decades now.”

I’m grateful that this still-active scout found time in his busy season. I’m thankful, too, for having found this uplifting 2007 feature about Oldis. Great pictures!

One Collector’s Craziest TTM Autographs

Ronnie Joyner has shared his insights as a baseball artist this week. Today, he tells of his life as an autograph collector. Don’t believe that former players care what you put in your letters? Joyner learned early that every word matters.

He recalled:

“Aside from the many great letters I received, there were some dubious (and funny) moments, too, that I remember off the top of my head:

– Tommy Byrne yelling at me for mentioning his St. Louis “Cardinal” years. He never played with the Cards. I meant to write St. Louis “Browns”. We became Brownie acquaintances years later.

– Gene Conley getting snippy about autograph collectors and why he was “forced” to charge. His note informed that he had three options:

1. Throw the enclosed card in the trash
2. Return it unsigned
3. Request a signing fee.

I never minded the guys that charged, I just didn’t like Conley’s accusatory tone. I always felt my thoughtful, hand-written letters should have separated me from the collectors who were only interested in making a buck off a player’s autograph, but some guys just hated the whole bunch of us no matter what. Nowadays, in my mellow old age, I would have just laughed it off. Being an angry young man at the time, however, I had to fire off a rebuttal while rejecting his offer to sign for, what was certainly, a small amount of money. It was the principle!

I sent my card back and told him he could do “option 1.” I told him that it was my contention that any decent guy wouldn’t have “option 1” as an option. How rotten is it to throw a kid’s card in the trash? Anyway, the problem was that I really wanted a signed 1956 Topps Conley because I was trying to accumulate as many sigs from the’56 set, one of my favorites, as possible. So it doesn’t pay to have principles when you want something.

So principled was I that I re-wrote Conley a letter under the pseudonym “Spanky Bozman” — and enclosed the autograph fee. I used my buddy Bill Bozman’s address, but forgot to tell Bill about my scheme. When the signed card arrived at his house, Bill called me and asked who the heck was Spanky Bozman! I had some ‘splainin’ to do.

But to this day, my Gene Conley ’56 “Spanky” card is one of my favorites. I still suspect that Conley knew the whole deal. I did a bio-illustration of him years later to make amends.

– Al Worthington calling into question my Christianity. “All the autographs in the world won’t help you get into heaven”. He enclosed a pile of literature and signed my card. Still, I resented this challenge to my Christianity. I thought I could be a good Christian AND an autograph collector. So, again, in the stupidity of my youth, instead of laughing it off, I rebutted him in a reply. Nothing overly confrontational, but a rebuttal nonetheless.

Stupid kid. I regret it to this day and I may reach out to him again. Funny thing — when I was helping Don Gutteridge write his memoirs back in 2008, we discussed an interesting story about Worthington. Don was a coach with the White Sox all through the 1960s, and Worthington was a pitcher there for a handful of games in 1960. Don, himself as solid a Christian as you’d ever meet, confirmed that the Sox were stealing signs from opposition catchers via a guy with binoculars hiding in the centerfield scoreboard. Worthington, apparently already solidly entrenched in his Christianity, did not like the dishonesty of the covert operations. He complained to management, refused to go along, and was promptly released. As I said, Don was a good Christian man, but he referred to Worthington as a “holy roller” type, which tells me that Worthington’s approach to sharing his Christianity has apparently rubbed everybody wrong forever. Still, I should contact him about the whole thing. I’m sure it would make for an interesting bio-illustration or straight-up article.

– Russ “The Mad Monk” Meyer getting confused. I wrote a long, thoughtful letter to Nats great Buddy Meyer. Problem was, Buddy was dead. I got my lines crossed and thought Buddy was alive and well because I was attributing the “alive-and-well” Russ Meyer’s address to the “dead-and-gone” Buddy Meyer.

Anyway, Russ writes back saying, “I don’t know who Buddy Meyer is,but I used to be a pro ballplayer.” Then he proceeded to write out all ofhis career achievements as if I had no clue who he was. Pretty dang funny. Iwrote him back and filled him in on the mistake. I did a bio-illustration of Russ years later because he was just too colorful not to draw, but, unfortunately, he died a few years before I got around to it.

Gotta love the hobby!”

(Ronnie is pictured at the 2009 NLCS game in Philadelphia. Photograph courtesy Ronnie Joyner)

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