Muhammad Ali, Baseball Player?

What if Ali played major league baseball? What if he was in the Topps set you’re trying to get autographed?

“Sure. I want every card signed.”

What if you had gotten a pamphlet like this with the autograph? What if your religion didn’t agree with his?

Ali knew the power of autographs. He’d autograph every copy, so fans would keep the handout. If they kept the brochure for the autograph, they might read the contents.

Current and former players are giving a gift when they give an autograph by mail. They believe you’re interested in them as people. People have religious, political or other views we don’t agree with.

Baseball people will include “extras” in their replies — business cards, brochures or requests to donate to a charity, even though they signed for free.

I disagree with someone who sends back a brochure but keeps the autograph. Recycle if the literature offends you. Starting a debate with a signer might create a former signer — or someone who requires a $20 “donation” for their cause for each signature. If the pamphlet seemed annoying, how will you feel knowing that your money is supporting that opposing viewpoint?

By the way, those tolerant enough to save Ali’s autographed pamphlet should check ebay today. The surviving signed tracts are fetching top dollar.

I’m grateful for the image from the fascinating website To learn about the boxing great’s AUTHENTIC signatures, this is the ultimate education!

Chatting with Hall of Famer Johnny Mize

Two nicknames honored Johnny Mize during his too-brief career. Many called him “Big Cat” for his fielding prowess, or “Big Jawn” for his size and Georgia accent.

I’d add “Southern Gentleman” to the list of monikers.

I spent two hours with the World War II veteran at an Iowa card show when I wrote for a collectibles magazine.

Mize felt he owed a debt of gratitude to the public for his Hall of Fame membership. He appeared everywhere in a sport coat and necktie.

“You know anything about that Lenny Dykstra?” he asked. “We just did a card show together.”

I thought we’d be talking about “Nails,” the aggressive old-school player.

“He showed up wearing a jogging suit,” Mize fumed. “With all he makes, he could have afforded a sport coat. He wanted to wear his stereo headphones as he signed. He wasn’t even going to shake hands with fans!” Mize added that he had to stop wearing his Hall of Fame ring, because frequent hand-shaking meant the jewelry kept cutting his finger.

Mize’s eyes narrowed. His glare grew.

“In my day, someone like that couldn’t even carry my jockey strap!”

At the autograph table, a parent approached with a child in a wheelchair. Although Mize had been through recent knee replacement surgeries, he rose from the table to come nearer the chair. He still moved like a cat, but looked like a bear’s grandfather.

The old Yankee’s smile blossomed. The parent took a picture. Mize looked for a cue, making sure he was done posing.

“This is for you.”

From his inner sport coat pocket, he produced a 1953 Topps card.

“May I autograph it for you?”

Others in the line didn’t complain. They were overwhelmed at the all-star effort.

I saw Mize had a stack of collectibles in his pocket. I spotted a Perez-Steele card and his vintage 1950s issues.

“Fans send me an extra sometimes. I save them. If I meet a special child, I like to have something to give them. I do the same when I see someone in uniform. You meet lots of military people in airports. I thank them for their service.”

Remember Johnny Mize. If you’re sending a card for an autograph, include a second. State in the letter, “There is a second card for you to keep. Please, share it with another baseball fan if you can.”

Then, put a post-it note atop the extra card – “YOURS TO KEEP.”

I disagree with collectors who’ll send 6-8 cards with a vague “keep some for yourself if you want.” I can’t help but worry this might be a veiled ploy to get a pile of autographed trading stock from someone who didn’t read a letter carefully. That’s not true generosity. Mark each card, so the player isn’t confused.

That child or soldier will never know you made the gift possible. Please, try. You’d make a Hall of Famer smile.

Jack Faszholz Battled the 1953 Giants

Flash forward 47 years. Will you be able to recall every detail of today?

You might if you were facing the biggest challenge of your life.

I wrote to pitcher Jack Faszholz, asking me for the memory of his first strikeout.
Instead of a shrugged grunt of an answer, he recreated a near play-by-play
depiction of his first major league start. Back in 2000, Faszholz wrote:

My first recorded K: To tell you the truth, I can’t recall the details of that event. I do remember that it was in my first and only major league start, Cardinals against the New York Giants in St. Louis (April ’53).

I walked Davey Williams, the Giants’ 2B and leadoff man; then Giant SS Alvin Dark dribbed a ball down the 3rd base line for a base hit; Henry Thompson (3B) batted third, Whitey Lockman CF; Monte Irvin RF; Bobby Thomson LF, Tookie Gilbert 1B, Sal Yvars C and Dave Koslo P was the rest of the Giant lineup.

I recall that both Williams and Dark scored before I got through the first inning. I pitched through the Giants half of the fifth inning and we were leading at that time, 5-4.

Al Brazle relieved me. We eventually lost that game, 9-6. one thing I do remember about the strikeouts I got that game was that most of them were the result of off-speed (change-up) pitches.

Thanks again for your interest and your letter.

Jack Faszholz

How did the hurler fare in recounting that day? Go to the ever-faithful for the complete account.

Faszholz came from an athletic family. This fun 2008 article documents his family’s other connections to pro sports.

1950s St. Louis Cardinal Jack Faszholz Traded Pitching For a Pulpit

John Faszholz typified the “gap” player still seen today. A star at the AAA level that gets little to no chance to succeed in the majors.

Faszholz’s window of opportunity slammed shut after just four games.

The modest moundsman is a member of the Rochester Red Wings Hall of Fame. With no bitterness about what might have been in the majors, Faszholz recalled his memories of a brief stay in St. Louis, along with the decision that brought him to a lasting, even more fulfilling career. In a generous 2000 reply, he wrote:

“Dear Mr. Owens,

Thanks so much for your letter which shows your obvious interest in the great game of baseball. I consider myself very fortunate to have been a part of the game for 12 seasons, and to have competed against, or been teammate of, so many great players.

In response to your questions:

1. Sportsman’s Park: A typical ‘old time’ ballpark where the fans were close to the field. The dimensions were irregular: 354 feet down the left field foul line; only 310 feet down the right field line; about 410-420 to dead center field. There was a wire fence from the right field pavilion) which meant that a hitter had to hit the ball to the pavilion roof (about 25 feet high) for a home run. Any home run into the left field bleachers was a pretty good poke.

2. My nickname ‘Preacher’ — During most of the years that I played, I spent the off-season in school at Concordia Theological Seminary in St. Louis. Since I went to school only one semester a year, it took me 10 years to complete my Seminary courses. Because of this off-season activity, writers and teammates started calling me ‘Preacher.’ After I retired from the game and after I finished my Seminary work, I was, in fact, ordained as a Lutheran minister (1958). My ministry was mainly in teaching and coaching in an education institution of our church body. I retired in 1990.”

Trolling the riches of Baseball Alamanac, I found this fascinating feature about the two lives of Jack Faszholz, written by Pat Doyle. Great photos, too.

Tomorrow: stand on the mound in St. Louis with Jack Faszholz as he relives his first and only start!

Don Drysdale’s Inside Pitch to Collectors

Don Drysdale saw the humor in autographs.

Mickey Mantle once said:

“I hated to bat against Drysdale. After he hit you he’d come around, look at the bruise on your arm and say, ‘Do you want me to sign it?'”

Before Drysdale’s 1993 death, he ended a years-long willingness to sign free through the mail. His 3-by-5 offer read…

Dear Baseball Fan:

Due to the increase in overhead (office space, secretarial service, postage and so on), from now on, it will be necessary to have a service charge of $3 per signature. No personal checks accepted.

Thank you for your understanding.

Don Drysdale

There was no pretense of an unnamed charity. Likewise, he didn’t rage about collectors who’ve sold his autograph and exploited his kindness. Additionally, he didn’t close the door like Andy Messersmith or Bill White, saying NO to all TTM collectors.

To the end, Double D was a no-nonsense guy dealing with hitters and collectors.

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