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.

Ex-Yankee Irv Noren’s Streak Ends

Joe DiMaggio? Derek Jeter? Did they ever rival Irv Noren’s streak?

Noren, now 85, has seemed to call it quits on signing by mail. I received the note, “Sorry, Mr. Noren is not signing or writing his info now. Sorry. J. Noren.”

I looked him up on the first-class hobby website, www.sportscollectors.net. He had signed 186 consecutive TTM requests that were posted before another, “not signing any more” decline was sent.

Noren was great about adding requested inscriptions. He had filled out questionnaires for fans.

Is it ill health? Noren never wanted to sign blank index cards. Did the fan mail onslaught become too much at his advanced age?

Another sign that the hobby clock is ticking. Send to those 70-and-over retirees sooner, not later. It could be too late.

Pitcher C.J. Nitkowski Remembers Meeting The Faces On His Cards


Writing my 2001 book Collecting Baseball Cards: The 21st Century Edition was fun. I still have a few copies left, if someone is looking for this out-of-print “classic.”

I tried to get lots of input for kids (the intended audience). Then-current pitcher C.J. Nitkowski was one of the first to help, replying:

“The funny part is, I go back and look at the few cards I have left, and I see cards of coaches I have had when they were players. Guys I never heard of at the time.

I picture myself eight years old, flipping cards. But now, I know some of these guys. Even though I didn’t know who they were at the time, it’s pretty funny to me.

I miss the gum, too. That was the second best part. The first, of course, was any New York Yankee card I got in my pack.”

Nitkowski has a Twitter account. His baseball gems get recapped at www.cjbaseball.com. It’s obvious he loves the game. Wouldn’t it be nice to think that every player, coach and broadcaster, like C.J., was a fan first?

“This is Bruce Kimm…I’m Calling From My Office…In Wrigley Field”


I’ll never forget those words.

It was a short conversation. There was a game to play. A future to map. Nevertheless, he wanted to thank me for my letter of support.

In 2002, when I sent a batch of 100 thank-you letters to my favorite past and present baseball players in the shadow of a possible player strike, I used “official” stationery. My letterhead included my phone number and email address.

I did not enclose SASEs. I wasn’t expecting written replies, let alone phone calls. But the calls came. Ted “The Famous Chicken” Giannoulas, Jimmy “Toy Cannon” Wynn and fellow Iowan Kimm, interim Cubs manager. Others sent e-mail.

Well, why have I stopped adding that contact info with the current letters I send?

I never thought of saying, “Excuse me. I want to record this for posterity.” Or, I would hate to miss a meaningful impromptu call in the bathroom. Besides, I can’t imagine trying to tell a career highlight story on someone’s answering machine.

And e-mail? E-mail begs for brevity. I’ve gotten three page heart-felt letters from retirees. I have a hunch they’d never fill screens with as many details. I predict that someday collectors will have albums filled with e-printouts. But not me.

There’s something special, something permanent, about what comes in that return envelope.

How would you feel, readers, getting phone calls or e-mails, instead of replies in your SASE?

"This is Bruce Kimm…I’m Calling From My Office…In Wrigley Field"


I’ll never forget those words.

It was a short conversation. There was a game to play. A future to map. Nevertheless, he wanted to thank me for my letter of support.

In 2002, when I sent a batch of 100 thank-you letters to my favorite past and present baseball players in the shadow of a possible player strike, I used “official” stationery. My letterhead included my phone number and email address.

I did not enclose SASEs. I wasn’t expecting written replies, let alone phone calls. But the calls came. Ted “The Famous Chicken” Giannoulas, Jimmy “Toy Cannon” Wynn and fellow Iowan Kimm, interim Cubs manager. Others sent e-mail.

Well, why have I stopped adding that contact info with the current letters I send?

I never thought of saying, “Excuse me. I want to record this for posterity.” Or, I would hate to miss a meaningful impromptu call in the bathroom. Besides, I can’t imagine trying to tell a career highlight story on someone’s answering machine.

And e-mail? E-mail begs for brevity. I’ve gotten three page heart-felt letters from retirees. I have a hunch they’d never fill screens with as many details. I predict that someday collectors will have albums filled with e-printouts. But not me.

There’s something special, something permanent, about what comes in that return envelope.

How would you feel, readers, getting phone calls or e-mails, instead of replies in your SASE?

%d bloggers like this: