Help Cub Bob Will Preserve Baseball History

Posted July 29th, 2011 by Tom Owens and filed in Bob Will, Chicago Cubs
Honest lefty Will. He knew of
other players switching
sides to fool Topps photographers!

Former Chicago Cubs outfielder Bob Will isn’t leaving the bat on his shoulder. He’s getting his swings.

I wrote about Will back in February. I’m grateful to Kyle Smego of The Autograph Addict for telling me what a friend Will has been to collectors and children’s cancer charities.

When the phone rang Wednesday night, I heard from Will the Gamer. Conventional thinking says that Will is trailing late in the game. I say otherwise.

Will has a plan that kicks cancer’s ass. The Cubs veteran is intent on leaving a legacy. He’s completing his life story. This biography/memoir is something any Cubs fan would treasure. Will is preserving team history, not just his own life story. He endured the College of Coaches. Will has memories of newcomers Ken Hubbs, Lou Brock, Ron Santo and Billy Williams. (He remained friends with the man who took over his outfield job, by the way!) If it happened from 1957-63, this talented storyteller knows about it.

Will plans on sharing his personal collection of photos in the book, too. I’m thinking many of these are unpublished, maybe never been seen by any fans.

Bob asked, “We’d like to know how many would like such a book, and how much they might pay.” The Wills are looking at a self-publishing effort.

Let the Will family know your thoughts, please. Cheer them on. Would you buy a book when it’s completed? How much would you pay for such a collectible? Your indication of interest will help them prepare a book budget and decide on the size of the print run. Share your contact info, and you could be among the first to own these untold stories.

Write to them at

Meanwhile, enjoy this fine article by Jason Learman about Will’s career.

Coming Monday: Pitcher Dennis Bennett ponders his potential.

Looking for the ‘Crash Davis’ 2011 All-Stars

Former Cub Bobby Scales sent me a message in June.

Has time improved
Tracy’s autograph?

No, I didn’t get mail. I got the symbolism of his career decision. He joined the Nippon Ham Fighters June 27. He played more than 10 minor league seasons, but he isn’t quitting. Scales hasn’t stopped loving the game.
Minor leaguers over age 30 are an endangered species. I think the movie Bull Durham is more real than we might imagine. These men know that 2011 might be a last hurrah. They want to keep playing while they can. I know that waiting one more season to write them could be too long.
I selected eight veteran names, names of men who tasted major league glory once. Those I wrote to include…
Nate Bump

Randy Flores
Eric Junge
Mike Lamb
Nate Robertson
J.C. Romero
Terry Tiffee
Andy Tracy

The ninth man’s life and career is unfolding like a TV movie. David Newhan grew up the son of famed L.A. Times baseball writer Ross Newhan. The young Newhan debuted in 1999, a versatile utilityman. In 2009, a surfing accident and broken neck seemed to end Newhan’s diamond career.

Some reporters questioned how Newhan could still walk, or even be alive.

Newhan went to spring training with the 2011 Padres, attempting a AAA comeback. That goal fell short. However, the love of baseball didn’t wane. Newhan became a coach at class A Lake Elsinore.

My 10th man is double-A hurler Pat Venditte, a relative youngster.

No, baseball’s first legitimate ambidextrous pitcher (aside from a 1995 inning by Greg A. Harris) is not one of the minors’ senior citizens. I think his lack of blazing fastball makes him questionable to the Yankees. I can’t imagine a team not needing lefty AND righty help. Buy one, get one free. Venditte will be a Youtube immortal, even if the majors don’t call. Cooperstown should call dibbies on Venditte’s reversible fielding glove.

This batch of baseball warriors impress me. I’ve found a few other “old timers” still active in AAA. Sadly, according to results posted on, these men stopped answering fan mail years ago. In a way, they gave up early.

I’m hoping the waning weeks of the season will produce some surprises. Don’t give up, guys. You throwback players are living history!

Coming Friday: Pitcher Dennis Bennett ponders possibilities.

What 500 Blog Posts Have Taught Me About Autographs, Baseball…And Myself

Posted July 26th, 2011 by Tom Owens and filed in Mike Cramer, Pacific Trading Cards, Winding Oak Media
The auction house got
$86.25 for this 1971
commemorative. When
Killebrew got 500, he
got a coffee mug. With
my 500th, I just get

Even if no baseball scoreboards flash the message, it’s true. This is the 500th post of Baseball By The Letters. It’s been a joy to share this adventure with all of you. I couldn’t have done any of this without the love and support of my best friend/wife Diana.

I’ve learned so much. First, I’ve got a lot left to learn about the technology of blogging. Yet this year, I’ll have an all-new WordPress site to unveil, an exciting creation from the visionaries at Winding Oak Media (who happen to be Twins fans!).

I’ve learned some basic truths about corresponding with people from baseball’s past.

1. Autographs and questions don’t always mix.

Some retirees are hard-wired to sign everything. I don’t ask for an autograph. I don’t talk about a collection. I stress that I want a memory, a bit of history.

2. The minors matter.

Several retirees with brief, lackluster stays in the majors prefer to appreciate their minor league glory. Those achievements are noteworthy, too, considering that minor league teammates and foes may have become the stars this guy never was.

3. Swinging for the fences is risky.

Asking, “Who was your favorite ____?” may be easier than asking former Cardinals manager Vern Rapp how he feels about pitcher Al “Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky today. But do you want an answer you’ll find in countless other places, or do you want an insight never seen before in any published resource? You may find that clockwork autograph signers don’t response. Your question might be too hard or painful to answer. How safe do you want to play it?

4. The payoffs are priceless.

Each week, I get thanked by a former major leaguer for writing. They thank me for remembering them. They thank me for loving baseball. They are FELLOW FANS.

And here’s one bit of wisdom for potential bloggers…

Write for yourself.

 Mike Cramer, the founder of Pacific Trading Cards, told me, “I always make the first set for myself.” That was my goal with the blog. I wasn’t finding anyone else in blogdom sharing letters from former players on a regular basis. I didn’t start Baseball By The Letters from a business model. I began writing because I was sure there would be nostalgic fans who’d value stories over statistics. I wrote what I knew I’d like, hoping I wasn’t alone.

Thanks, everyone, for your readership, posted comments and e-mails.

Coming Thursday: Do veteran minor leaguers still answer fan mail?