Remembering 1933-42 Yankees Bullpen Catcher Joe DiGangi, Autograph All-Star

“I only collect players!”

“He wasn’t on any cards!”

Collectors who limit themselves miss out on so many possibilities.

Exhibit A is Joe DiGangi, who passed away at age 94 in 2009.

Before you run for your baseball encyclopedia, know that DiGangi never played a major league game. However, he was a part of those great New York Yankees teams from 1933-42. For a little pay and the some of the best seats in Yankee Stadium, Joe worked as a bullpen catcher. He was there warming up a pitcher when Lou Gehrig made his “luckiest man” farewell. DiGangi saw DiMaggio’s hit streak.

Best of all, he wrote about it all! After appearing in a 2007 New York Times article, collectors tracked down the retiree, sharing his address. Joe lavished every letter with insights on Yankee greats he knew and worked with. He photocopied his scrapbook, showing himself pictured with pinstriped superstars.

Listen to a couple of the luckiest collectors, those who wrote to the non-player when they could:

Kevin Rozell writes an impressive Yankees blog. He shared an image of what Joe sent.

“He was a part of Yankees lore and one of the last people who had contact with some of the greatest players to ever put on the pinstripes. I thought his story was fascinating,” Kevin recalled.

“He sent me a nice letter, included some great photos and signed them. I sent him a letter back, thanking him for everything he sent me.”

Just look at the inspiring Edwin’s Autographs Through the Mail, and the jackpot struck with a letter to DiGangi. (The blog contains some awesome examples of customized index cards, too, but that’s a rave for another day…)

From Collector Tom Cipollo:

“Here is what Joe Digangi did for me. I wrote to him probably 3-4 times. He sent me some cards (around 10) of players in that era including catcher Bill Dickey, a photo re-print (card sized) of the Babe with Gary Cooper in 1942, a custom index card the he made or someone made for him and he signed that, a computer printout of a phote of himself with Tommy Lasorda at a game recently, another computer printout photo of Yankee Stadium and he wrote on the top of it: ” a rare photo of Yankee Stadium World Series game 1927 from Joe DiGangi bullpen catcher 1933-1942.

“I sent him a baseball to sign and he sent it back with my request of him signing it on the sweet spot with an added bonus: around the rest of the baseball he wrote players names who he had played with and a brief story/info about them. Players on this ball are Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Phil Rizzuto. In 2008, I sent him a little bit of money to thank him for everything and he responded with a 3 page letter thanking me for the money (because some people forgot to put postage on the return envelopes that he would put on for them).

In this letter included what we did after the war with his family, what his family did what his kids did, talked about moving to St. Thomas and helping to build the many resorts we all stay at when we visit there. He talked about his final move to California and how he has been there for 22 years.

At the end of the letter he wrote “hope all is well with you and I would sure love to hear from you again. I hope all my mail gets to you in good shape. Love to all Connie & Joe DiGangi.”

As evidenced in his obituary, Joe DiGangi was a classic baseball storyteller. When looking to future people to contact by mail for autographs and memories, gamble the stamps. You may get one last look at a past chapter in baseball history before the book closes.

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