Turk Wendell Wins With U.S. Soldiers

(Photo courtesy Sgt. Kevin Stabinsky)

Turk Wendell, a former major league baseball pitcher, autographs a squishy ball to give out during his visit to Forward Operating Base Kalsu, Oct. 9., 2007. He’s made three visits to war zones, and awaits the call to do more on behalf of American troops!

“I am very sorry for your loss.”

Turk Wendell wasn’t talking baseball. I told him about a hero of mine. My cousin Dustin Yancey, just 22, died in Iraq Nov. 4, 2005. His truck led an Army convoy that couldn’t escape a roadside bomb.

I remember his modest Iowa funeral. I expected to see the streets lined for him. I puzzled over the lack of elected officials who were silent on that day. Not even a city councilman made himself known.

No one understood. I was so happy that Turk Wendell did. I told him about Dustin, because the former pitcher has made three trips overseas to show other soldiers they’re appreciated. Why?

Wendell replied…

“I was very fortunate to go overseas and witness the war firsthand and see what it is really like, not from the B.S. on the news channels. The troops were so impress that myself and the few other ex-big leaguers would put our lives on the line to boost their morale and take their minds off the war, if only for a moment.

I was so touched, I went back to U.S. and went down to enlist myself. But being cold blind, they would only permit me to obtain certain duties, and I wanted to shoot!

So I figured I would just continue to go over whenever they asked me to.

Three trips later, I feel I did nothing in life by playing baseball. The Armed Forces are the real heroes of the U.S.A. Though baseball is America’s game, our Armed Forces should have their own baseball cards!!

Take care and God bless,
Turk Wendell”

Thank you, Turk. Thank you, Dustin.

Coming Wednesday: The message of Charlie Lea

Shades of ‘Bull Durham’ — Eavesdropping On An Actual New York Mets Mound Conference Between Turk Wendell and Mike Piazza

An unheralded storyteller!
Wendell could be our

I just got an early Christmas present from former pitcher Turk Wendell.
I asked him about the best advice he ever received from a catcher on the mound.

He gave me something better. Before he penned his first sentence completed, I knew he had shared a baseball classic, something worthy of a Seinfeld episode, or a Bull Durham sequel. Wendell wrote:

“Best advice on the mound —

Mike Piazza would always say the same 1 of 2 things when I came into a game. It usually was a crucial point in the game, men on base, close score, and a power hitter up to bat.

I would always ask him, ‘Okay, Mike, how we going after this guy?”

His response…

A) ‘Let me think about it on the walk back’ or

B) ‘Just go after him with your good shit!’

I always wanted to say, ‘No, I’ll just half-ass this one and see what happens!’ But never did!

Coming Tuesday: Turk Wendell’s serious side.

Dodger Carl Erskine Honors Fans Daily

Pitch-perfect penmanship,
even in his 80s!

Where have all the Carl Erskines gone?

I don’t mean fellow Brooklyn Dodgers. I mean baseball AMBASSADORS. Retired? I don’t think so. Every day of the year, he’s honoring and thanking fans and collectors.

I asked “Oisk” about his feelings about autographs. Here’s his inspiring reply:

“I usually receive eight or ten letters on the average each day. I try to answer right away, because when I can’t, they pile up.

I do them all myself and read each one. I consider fans the backbone of the game — and I consider signing an extension of my career.”

Who writes? What do they say in their letters?

“When I read these requests, they range from fans who saw us play, young fans who have read about us, men in prison writing for their own kids — birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

I just can’t throw these requests away.”

How can we thank this Dodger hero?

“I was once interviewed by Baseball Collectors Digest. I said I don’t charge for signing, but ask they [collectors] help Special Olympics if they/you can. Now, I often get 5 dollars, a check for $10 to $25 to help our local Special Olympics.”

Erskine closed with a message to other major leaguers, past and present:

“I’m bothered by players who, or their agents, restrict their signing to make their autograph more valuable.

That’s an insult to the fan base that made their autograph sought after.

Carl Erskine”

Coming Monday: What did catcher Mike Piazza tell Turk Wendell when he went to the mound?

Pitcher Turk Wendell Salutes Our Military

Pitcher. PATRIOT!

Coming soon…

I have an amazing response from pitcher Turk Wendell. While he offered some great baseball insights, his comments on patriotism give us a perfect way to celebrate this Veterans Day.

Although I had squirreled away the whole letter for publication next week, I’m grateful that my wife Diana convinced me that I should share a bit of Turk’s inspiration for this holiday.

From Turk Wendell:

“The Armed Forces are the real heroes of the U.S.A. Although baseball is America’s game, our Armed forces should be on their own baseball cards!!”

I second that emotion.

Steve Darms Discovers Autograph Karma

Baseball-Almanac web guru
Sean Holtz has employed
Steve’s hobby karma theory,
finding certified autographs
of tough signers who’ve
fallen from grace. Be sure
to check out Jeremy’s BA page!

Move over, “Mendoza Line.” Minnie, take a break. One hobbyist has coined a new term:

The Jeremy Hermida Principle.

I loved learning about Steve Darms. He knows that good things come to collectors who wait. Or, he’s uncovered the theory of hobby karma. Here’s his story:

Q: What are your autograph specialties? Have you ‘graphed in person?

A: My collection is all over the place, in all sports.  It probably would be easier if I just focused on one team, but I want everybody.  It doesn’t matter if they’re the star first baseman, or the pitching coach.  The one constant is that 99% of my signed items are on flat items in binders (cards, photos, and team-signed rosters).  For the record, my favorite major league team is the Blue Jays, and in our family, we HATE the Yankees…I’ll still get their minor league players to sign, though ;-).

In person, my teams are the Syracuse Chiefs, Auburn Doubledays, Binghamton Mets, and their opponents.  (I also do Syracuse Crunch hockey, and Syracuse basketball and football during the baseball off-season).  I’ve only been to a handful of major-league games, and haven’t tried to ‘graph there.  It’s always easier to just get them in the minors before they become impossible to get.  And while I do want to get everyone, I won’t go to the hotel, or come to the park 4 hours before the gates open.  I just do regular pre-game and post-game, and if I don’t get certain guys, I can trade with my fellow collectors, or just buy a cert card of them at a show. 

That’s always sweet revenge, getting blown off by a player and then finding a cert card in the dollar bin at the next card show.  (I think that phenomenon should officially be re-named “The Jeremy Hermida Principle.”)

Q: How long have you collected?

A: My first ever autograph was Bob Feller at a show when I was one, in late 1983.  My father got him to sign his 1955 Bowman, personalized to me.  When I was a kid, I would bring my program down to the Chiefs dugout at games, because it was something to do.  I really didn’t get fully bitten by the autograph bug until the summer of 1998, when Jose Cruz Jr. was on rehab with the Chiefs, and I had a card I really wanted signed.  During the game, I realized I’d heard of about half of the players on both teams.  That’s when I realized I should be coming for every visiting team too.  (I did end up getting Cruz outside after that game.)

Q: What other collectors helped you learn?

A: I think the thing that really influenced my collecting was a letter in the autograph column of Tuff Stuff magazine in the summer of 1999 (I think Ken Griffey Jr was on the cover).  A collector had written in, talking about how he mainly collected guys from the minors and other lesser-known players.  I believe his last sentence was something like: IF YOU WANT A BIG COLLECTION, REMEMBER THE UNREMEMBERED GUY.  That’s what triggered my “need” to try for everyone.  If I didn’t have a card (which was often the case), I’d get them to sign the team roster, so I’d have them on SOMEthing.  I never understood when other collectors only got the guys they had cards for, even as other players were on the verge of the majors.

Q: Have you had any personal replies in TTM collecting? Notes or letters answering questions?

A: I started doing TTM in 1998, and probably send out an average of 100 requests per year (though with each new year, I keep telling myself I should send out more).  I don’t usually ask the guys questions, but have gotten a few notes back, from John “Mule” Miles, Virgil Trucks, Billy Sample, and Bob Watson.

Q: Lastly, do you have hobby goals or projects?

A: I’ve been working on the 1985 Fleer & 1985 Fleer Update sets, and the 1999 Team Best Baseball America set.  I’d like to finish those, though there are several deceased players and expensive HOFers still to go in the Fleer set.  I guess the only other goal is to just keep getting whoever I encounter, from any sport or area of interest, even though, according to my girlfriend, that makes me an “autograph whore.”

Coming Friday: Don’t miss this one, folks: Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine talks autographs. He shares words guaranteed to make you stand up and cheer!


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