Harry Kalas, Richie Ashburn Remembered By Phillies Pitcher Pat Combs

Combs signature
swirls like a
tight curve ball!

When do you know you’ve made it? When do you feel like you belong?

I asked Philadelphia pitcher Pat Combs what his four-hitter versus the Cardinals during his 1989 rookie season meant. (Thanks http://www.retrosheet.org/ for the memories!) Combs wrote:

“The Cards game was great! What I most remember is that it proved to me how good my ‘stuff’ was. It showed me that good pitchers get hitters out. The key is to make good pitches.

My wife was in the stands that day.”

Combs should get extra credit for his final-month victories in 1989 and ’90. I pointed out that pitchers are facing September call-ups, guys without substantial scouting reports. By contrast, word spreads fast about how pitchers are pitching. Combs added:

“When I arrived in ’89, I had the same type of finish. I seemed to get stronger as the year progressed. The only attribution I could come up with is that my fitness level was extremely high. I would stay in great shape throughout the season, and simply outworked most of my peers.”

Two reasons that Combs remains memorable to Phillies fans are announcers Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn. What does the former pitcher cherish from these beloved voices?

“Harry K and Richie (Whitey) were great men. They so much enjoyed the game and the players. We could sit and talk for hours with them. Both were very kind and gentle men.”

After reading about Combs’ Christianity, I decided to end my letter with my favorite Biblical passage. Combs replied:

“Tom, yes, James 2:14-17 are great verses. We must always practice what we preach, and walk in the ways of our Lord Jesus. He showed us the Way!


Coming Monday: writing to baseball family members.

Will Slugger-Turned-Author Shawn Green Start Signing Autographs Again?

Publishers: consider
having inaccessible
athletes autograph
cards to help sales!

Shawn Green’s initials might be RTS (Return to Sender).

Green has done some appearances to promote his new book, The Way of Baseball, including Jewish Community Day at Dodger Stadium. I assume that means signing copies.

I’ve only seen reviews (mostly kind) about the book. In it, Green is supposed to explain how he retired at age 34 to spend more time with his wife and kids.

Is that why he remains an elusive by-mail autograph signer?
Although this might be good only temporarily, collectors might reach him in care of his publisher Simon and Schuster. I haven’t tried it. No guarantees. However, maybe S&S would encourage him to sign again? I wouldn’t risk any valuable card. Or, someone who writes to him at his home address might try addressing it to “Author Shawn Green.”

Green and his family might be more worried about slighting readers, as opposed to mere fans or ordinary collectors.

Coming Friday: Warm words from Phillies pitcher Pat Combs.

Pirates Pitcher Joe Gibbon Shares An Intriguing Tidbit On Teammate Roberto Clemente

Love the expression: “Maz will do WHAT?”

Pitcher Joe Gibbon fascinates me.

He made the common transition of hurlers in the 1960s, from starter to reliever.

Which did he prefer? Gibbon wrote me:

“It didn’t matter, as long as I was pitching.”

I asked about the 1960 World Championship. What does he remember most? From a man who had one of the best seats in the house…

“The Seventh Game. Maz walk-off homer.”

Just when I thought I might be able to read the mind of this former Buc, Gibbon threw me a curve. I asked about teammate Roberto Clemente. What were conversations like with him?

“Nice guy. He could tell some wild stories.”

Wild stories?!? Hmmm…

More Gibbon insights can be found in this sterling SABR biography, written by Thomas Van Hyning.

Coming Thursday: a notorious non-signer writes a feel-good baseball book!

Two Shy Cardinals Sidestep Questions

Sykes has toned down
his “S,” but has the
same autograph today.

Welcome to Update Day!

For starters, I received three consolation prizes in my mailbox in the last week. Two pitchers and an outfielder were good for autographs only, not acknowledging questions I included.

Bob Sykes signed my letter, then included an autographed printout of his favorite Bible verse (Phil. 4:13).

Fellow hurler John Costello sent me an autographed Upper Deck card.

Brewer and Astro outfielder Wilbur Howard penned his flamboyant signature on my letter.

Each answered. That’s promising. I’m not suggesting the trio would never answer any questions. The only thing I learned is that I asked the wrong questions at the wrong time.


Thanks to all of you who sent positive feedback about my conversation with 1953 Yankee Steve Kraly.

Collector Andrew Scott sent scans of what he created for Kraly. Impressive! Check them out:

As more current and former players fear blank index cards, customs are a great alternative. Make your own collectible. Or, make friends with artistic hobbyists like Andrew.


Lastly, there’s hope for Cubs fans who haven’t gotten their copies of Ron Santo: A Perfect 10 yet. Did you miss my review? Here it is from June 17.

The nearest Iowa Walgreens store had copies on the counter, discounted from $24.95 to $14.95. I’ve heard that Jewel Foods has been carrying them at a sale price, too. It’s a book worth owning — and sharing!

Coming Wednesday: Teammate Joe Gibbon remembers Roberto Clemente.

Yankee Pitcher Johnny Kucks Remembers 1956

Does that look like a sidearmer to you?
Kucks has kept that ornate sidearm signature!

One new baseball term I’m abuzz over is “pitch to contact.”

I’ve known people who TALK to contact. They get the job done quickly.

Yankees Pitcher Johnny Kucks might qualify on both counts.

I asked about his masterful performance in Game 7 of the 1956 World Series, the culmination of his 18-win season. (Thanks to http://www.retrosheet.org/, here it is!)

A box score can’t tell when a winning pitcher may have been a bit nervous. I asked Kucks for a tense moment from that title-clinching victory:

“First inning 2 men on, Robinson hit into double play.”

As in JACKIE Robinson! Who’d pass up a chance of bragging explicitly about the future Hall of Famer he outmatched?

I’ve checked out Kucks’ baseball cards for hints about his motion. I’ve seen him described as a sidearmer. However, I wasn’t sure if he go three-quarters if needed. Or, did a coach tinker with his delivery?

“Always threw sidearm.”

Kucks showed with his final answer that he isn’t a chest-thumping, muscle-flexing veteran. After 19 wins in his first pro season, Kucks lost two seasons to military service. Thankfully, a ticket to the show awaited him upon his return in 1955. Regrets?

“Everything went well on career delay.

Best wishes,
Johnny Kucks”

Coming Tuesday: Two reluctant Redbirds, and other blog updates!

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