Pitcher Don Lee Listened to Dad: Former Pitcher Thornton Lee

Don Lee made use of some unique advice when following in father’s footsteps. Lee pitched from 1957-66. He chose the family business of sorts, picking his pa’s profession. Father Thornton Lee, a 22-game winner for the 1941 White Sox, was the voice of experience.

“Dad always said ‘throw strikes’ and ‘don’t be afraid to hit someone.'”

Young Lee threw four shutouts during his decade in the majors.  Which one was he proudest of?

“All of them, but Detroit, because they are the team I signed with.”

(Flashback, 1962, courtesy http://www.retrosheet.org/.)

Lee won 11 games in 1962, dividing time between the Twins and Angels. I told him that he’d be awarded a multi-year contract extension for such achievement today. Back then?

“My contract was raised $1,500 per year! (For one year.)”

Any capsule biography loves to latch onto the fact that Ted Williams made history against the Lee family, homering against both father and son. Stats, however, note that “Teddy Ballgame” went a collective 2-for-7 against Don Lee (including that homer). Not too shabby against a Hall of Famer. Lee’s look back?

“The game has changed so much it’s hard to relate one time of playing against another. The players just don’t compare.”

Catching Cardinal ‘Cot’ Deal

Catch “Cot” in the
1994 Topps Archives.
His Sig Still Sparkles!

Am I waving the white flag as a collector?

Not quite. I still crave quality responses from former players. This month, I’ll be sharing those, too. However, I’m beginning 2011 by appreciating the letter I send, too.

I wrote to Ellis “Cot” Deal, nicknamed for his cotton-top hair. Including his signature, I received just 20 words back. No complete sentences. Nevertheless, I was so pleased that he responded over the holiday break. He’ll be 88 on Jan. 23.

Most of all, I wanted to send my thanks to Cot. He’s a World  War II veteran. Plus, he’s survived prostate cancer. Two inspirations.

“Thanks, Tom.”

I asked about his 1954 victory against the Cincinnati Reds. In that 14-12 slugfest, the pitcher collected two RBI to make the difference. What did he remember?

“The double I hit.”

In more than a decade as a major league pitching coach, I was sure Cot would have a favorite accomplishment. Sounding like a political candidate, he replied gently with his greatest pleasure of that tenure:

“Having so many proteges.”

He knew Fred Hutchison as a teammate and boss. If “Hutch” hadn’t been taken so early by cancer, what kind of managerial career could Cot have foreseen for his friend?

“The best.”

I enclosed a second piece of stationery as usual. This allows the former player not to try writing microscopically in the margins. When I noted that I’d like to know any of Cot’s thoughts about 48 years in pro ball, he responded:

“Too many, Tom.

Good luck, Tom —

Cot Deal”

What lessons did I learn from this letter? I believe that some retirees will always attempt to offer same-day responses to fan mail. When someone is facing an 88th birthday, their urge for speed might grow. No problem. I like to think of Mr. Deal sitting in his Oklahoma apartment, admiring that stationery I made for him, printing out his career in a one-paragraph series of headlines atop the page. I consider it his first birthday present. He can spend the winter pondering what memories he’d choose to fill that page. It can be a letter to himself.

One of my favorite sites, Baseball Almanac, relied on Pat Doyle to glean more answers from Cot Deal.

Declare Your Major at Autograph University

Non-signing Red Sox hurler Josh Beckett (right)
still found time for collector Matt Raymond.
(Courtesy Matt Raymond & Autograph University)

In 2011, Baseball By The Letters will be corresponding with inspiring collectors. We can learn a lot from each other! Topping the list is Matt Raymond, the Boston area collector and author of the blog Autograph University. I’m grateful that he shared some hobby insights with us.

Q: I focus on baseball correspondence in my blog. How much of your collecting is baseball-related? How much is TTM versus in person?

A: First, thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you and your readers. Baseball ranks second to basketball in terms of what I am collecting now. In third, I would lump together non-sports graphing—musicians, comedians and other celebrities.

TTM is how I got into the hobby. I remember being twelve years old sifting through the mail each day after school, looking for a creased envelope with the address in my own handwriting. When there was one, it was like coming upon a Golden Ticket. It may sound funny, but Raul Mondesi was one of my favorite players when I was younger and I remember racing around the house screaming after getting that one back. Since I started graphing in person about five years ago, I haven’t done much through the mail. With that said, I’m considering increasing my TTM activity and getting some of the old timers like Bobby Doerr who are still such good signers. My crystal ball is also telling me that when Baby Raymond comes in a few years my collecting will start to skew toward TTM.

Q: I’d love to include a picture of you with a baseball signer. I had to look twice at a few of the photos to tell who the celeb was. You’re quite a presence. I digress… How does the picture taking and collecting work? How often do you get them signed later, either in person or TTM?

A: To me, the ultimate item is not a game-used jersey or an autographed bat—it’s s a picture with a ballplayer that I can later get personally signed. I’m serious! I would trade any “premium” item I have for a more personal item.

Typically there isn’t enough time to get a picture taken, but I always carry a camera in case the opportunity presents itself. In the spring of 2010 I was outside a Red Sox charity event at which Josh Beckett was appearing. Upon exiting the venue he was met by a swarm of collectors and declined autograph requests (no surprise). I asked him if he’d take a picture with me and he agreed. It’s clear the commercialism of autographs has had a negative impact on the signing habits of a lot of players. With a picture request, they know you’re not making money on their generosity.

Q: How do you explain the Red Sox anti-mail form letter responses instead of signing?

It’s simple to explain—these players get bombarded with requests. I don’t have a problem with the form letters if the players who want to personally respond can still do so (i.e. the mail isn’t automatically routed to a marketing team). I’m also not crazy about the preprinted 4x6s they’re distributing because kids think they have the real deal. I’d rather get nothing back. I think they would be better served to use it as an opportunity to return some sort of unsigned collectible and promote charity events where you do have an opportunity to get a personal autograph.
Q: When did you start the blog? Why?

A: I started  Autograph University in September 2010 after losing momentum on a memoir-style account of my autograph experiences. Writing a book is a huge investment of time and a solitary activity—it was difficult to stay motivated and write consistently. If I did ever finish, there would be many more obstacles to overcome before ever reaching a reader. The blog allows me to publish content quickly and get immediate feedback. More importantly, it allows me to focus less on me and more on how I can help my readers get more enjoyment out of the hobby. Getting a positive comment or retweet from someone is a huge motivator. It’s fulfilling knowing that what I’m writing is resonating with people.

Q: For in-person encounters, you don’t have much time. However, if you have a chance for 1-2 questions/comments with a baseball player, what have you said/asked?
A: It really is unfortunate when there’s only time for “Can you please sign this?” You walk away with an autograph and realize you didn’t make any kind of personal connection. Ideally, the interaction follows the same format as a letter you would write to a player in a TTM request. You may express your admiration and share a personal anecdote about seeing them play, ask for the graph and wish the player luck.

I’m fascinated by the athlete’s perspective on autograph collecting, so in the future I plan to ask more hobby-related questions. I  interviewed Donyell Marshall, a former NBA player, recently about autographs and he shared some great stories. If time allows, I would love to ask baseball players about their signing habits and what they collect. 

Q: How do you decide who/what NOT to collect?
A: Great question! Typically, if a person has some level of celebrity I’ll add them to my collection. I know that criterion is pretty broad. But over the past few years, I’ve become a bit more selective as the storage space in our house has dwindled. For example, it’s rare for me to get multiple items signed unless the athlete/entertainer is a star.

There are times, however, when I’ll leave my Sharpie capped. Here’s my list of “untouchables”:

· Cheerleaders
· Teen entertainers
· Mascots

Q: Baseball-related hobby goals for 2011?
A: I have pictures with Dustin Pedroia and Josh Beckett which I would love to get signed. Pedroia denied me one-on-one last year, so hopefully I get another shot. Also, as I mentioned before, I’d like to get some of the retired ballplayers TTM. Sometimes you wait until it’s too late and you miss out on a Bob Feller or Sparky Anderson.

My biggest goal is to continue to build Autograph University into a valuable resource for the autograph community. I want to keep learning about the hobby and share what I know with others.

There is also a new project which is very personal to me that I’d like to see come to fruition in 2011—a website archiving all the baseball memorabilia I’ve collected of my great-grandfather,  Eddie “Doc” Farrell. His career began in 1925 with the New York Giants and he played for several teams—winning a World Series with the Yankees in 1932—before retiring with the Red Sox in 1935. He died before I was born so a lot of what I’ve learned about him is through the items I collect and the stories I hear from my grandmother. Incidentally, my most prized autograph is a letter he wrote in response to a fan’s autograph request in the 1960s. I purchased it on eBay along with the signed index card that was returned with the letter for about thirty bucks.

I commend Matt for sharing his hobby passion with others. Before long, his Autograph University readers will be calling him PROFESSOR Raymond!

One Easy Autograph Goal for 2011

Happy New Year, everyone!

I’m not here to urge you to make an impossible resolution. Other people will coax pledges out of you. Promise to exercise four hours a day? We know those lists — and how they turn out.

Here’s an easy victory for you.

Scour the couch cushions. Give up one can of pop a week. Me? It’s COFFEE! Don’t buy that Powerball ticket. Find a way to shave just a dollar off your weekly habits.

Buy two stamps. One letter. One SASE. Once weekly.

You don’t have to give up sleep or miss your favorite TV show.

Check back in just one short year. Or, even three months. See how your collection grows. Instead of writing to every player in history, you’re choosing the teams and eras that matter most to YOU. Take your time. Write one personal request. Flush the form letter. Don’t be the hobbyist who says, “I sent out 100 letters the first week in January, then got sick of the whole thing.”

Forget the lottery. For a buck a week, I’m going to win my share of baseball history in 2011.

Tomorrow: meet a collector who’s the offspring of one of the 1930s Boston Red Sox.

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