Help Cub Bob Will Preserve Baseball History

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 I’m thinking many of these are unpublished, maybe never been seen by any fans.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

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?

‘Class…Substituting Today For Your Teacher Is New York Yankees Pitcher Rich Beck!’

Sounds like a monster movie:
The Teacher Wore Pinstripes!
Looks like he’s pitching to White…

Would you rather face hungry American League hitters, or a classroom of ornery high schoolers?

Rich Beck has done well against both lineups. A veteran teacher, Beck’s career was cut short by military service during the Viet Nam War.

Beck writes like a great teacher. He began his reply with:

“Wow, Tom! You are testing an old fella’s memory but I’ll try to answer your questions.”

Then, in the first time in the history of this blog, I received a hand-drawn SMILEY FACE!

First, I asked about one of his most dominating games, striking out eight Senators. Did the Ks come from fastballs or breaking stuff? Swinging or called?

“Probably fastballs and sliders. Don’t recall called third strikes vs. swinging but there is a website (address escapes me but suppose you can Google it) that gives play-by-play of games back to that era and that would answer the called vs. swinging question.”

Beck is referring to Here’s the recap of Beck’s brilliance.

The same amazing website has the vitals on Beck’s Sept. 19 shutout against the Tigers at Yankee Stadium.
Beck added:

“I believe that was a 0-0 game going into bottom of 8th. I do remember Ray Barker, who was playing first base that day, hit a two-run triple in the bottom of 8th. As far as the stats you quote…it was ugly but we turned two DPs I believe. I remember getting out of one inning with a fly to left with the bases loaded.”

I never got to cheer for Beck the Yankee. However, the work he’s doing as a teacher is worthy of a standing ovation. In fact, I cheer for all educators. A good pitcher wins games. A good teacher changes LIVES. Beck commented:

“I have been a substitute teacher my whole teaching stint — 1992 fall to fall of Nov. 1998 and then against from Feb. 2007 to date after working for a market research firm, The Nielsen Company, from 11/98 to 12/06. Most subbing (95 percent) is done at middle and high school level.”

Learn more about Beck with this fascinating biography written by Joe Schuster, available as part of the SABR Biography Project.

One final thought: I read once that Phillies announcer Harry Kalas recorded answering machine messages for fans. Imagine how the late Yankee Stadium PA announcer Bob Sheppard would have sounded on a school intercom.

“Students…now entering the classroom…number 23…former New York Yankees pitcher, Rich BECK!”

Coming Wednesday: The milestone 500th post for Baseball By The Letters

Baseball Families Are Overlooked Autographs

This gem of Mrs. Babe Ruth
congratulating Roger Maris on
his record-tying 60th homer sold by
for $1,175 in 2007. The
autograph helped. Mrs. Ruth
was a happy by-mail signer, too.

 Shawn Green inspired me.

Sorry, not his book. (I will read it!) Just the book jacket set me thinking.

His bio blurb says that he retired to spend more time with his wife and family.

Why do collectors overlook baseball relatives? Why do they ignore someone, just because they never wore a uniform?

In his trio of great baseball books, Seth Swirsky proved what swell content awaits creative collectors. He gleaned some wondrous insights from widows of long-gone players.

It seems the Hall of Fame should forward mail to wives of living and deceased members.

Andrew Martin, at his ever-surprising Baseball Historian blog, has gotten great stories out of Mrs. Curt Schilling and the nephew of Joe Pepitone.

I asked Andrew how he’d approach a baseball relative. Here’s his kind reply:

“Off the top of my head I have interviewed 4 baseball relatives in the past few weeks… Mrs. Schilling, Billy Pepitone, Ben Gamel (brother of Mat), and George Case III, son of the outfielder. These subjects have not been intentional, but rather opportunity that beckoned.

I don’t have a preference of the relationship between that person and the player, but think in each case there is the potential for valuable insight. Typically, what we know of a player is what they allow us to know, or what the media portrays. Speaking with a relative gives us some insider knowledge. That being said, I am still working on developing the best questions to ask such interview subjects.

When I interview the relatives of players, I try to make the interview center on them, and not the player. First of all, I think it is the respectful thing to do. Secondly, I think that the relative has a unique story to tell on their own, and through that, we typically find out more about the player.

For the All-Star type players, I want to know more about them off the field. The media has typically given us more than enough material about on-the-field exploits, so I want to know what is happening for them in other areas.”

Please, visit Andrew’s blog, or find his selected writings at

Coming Tuesday: A look back with Yankee pitcher Rich Beck.

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