(Dan Xeller photo)
There’s nothing like the faces of former players. From day to day, they’ve been cast as heroes or villains. Their eyes tell all.
When I found out about photographer Dan Xeller, I had to know more. As a collector and fan, he’s found a way to convert his TTM skills into a unique way to preserve baseball history. He was kind to share his fascinating story by e-mail.
Q: Tell us about your baseball project.
A: I have been a baseball fan since I was in diapers and was fortunate to have a family who were fans. My grandparents on both sides knew major leaguers and even considered some of them friends! After doing a bunch of research on ball-players from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, I realized that there were many
forgotten stories. I also started heavily researching the Negro leagues and wanted to meet some of the
players and hear their stories. Many of these former players had a career in baseball and then walked
away from it, many times getting a “normal” job and closing that chapter of their life.
What I’m trying to achieve with my photographs is capturing something from the players’ past and then marrying it with an interest, hobby, activity, etc… in the present. I started out thinking that I would self-publish a book of the portraits with some outtakes of the interviews but now it has grown into a potential documentary film down the road.
Q: When you met “Handsome Ransom” Jackson, what did you learn about his take on autograph collectors?
A: I was fortunate enough to spend an afternoon with Ransom Jackson of the 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers at
his home and speak at length with him about his past and present. Out of the blue, he mentioned to me that he had some scrapbooks filled with “interesting” and “bizarre” letters he has received over the years in the form of praise and autograph requests. He says he only keeps the really “weird” ones and invited me to look through some of the albums. I asked him if he found the TTM request intrusive and he said he was quite honored by it and was just happy to be remembered.
Toward the end of meeting, Ransom asked myself and my assistant if we wanted to pick out some cards and photos from his collection. We went up to his bedroom where he opened a drawer filled with photos, cards, clipping, etc.. from his earliest playing days to recent photofiles. We didn’t want to be greedy so we each took an 8×10 in which my assistant exclaimed, “this means a lot as this is my first autograph!”
Q: What are your baseball autograph interests?
A: Allow me to get anecdotal here for a minute… I mentioned before that my family on both sides are
big fans of baseball. Well, my grandmother once chased Duke Snider down Flatbush Avenue for an
autograph after a Dodgers game. When I was 8 years old, my dad and I started to going to card shows
at the Polish Community Center in Albany, New York.
Duke Snider was scheduled to sign that day and we bought an autograph ticket. At my father’s urging, when it was my turn with Duke, I told him the story of my grandma. Now, I don’t know if he was just obliging and 8 year old or he actually remembered but Duke says “That was your grandma?????”. That autograph has been a centerpiece to my collection to this day. My grandma also worked with Frank Viola’s mom at the Nassau County Jail and she was able to get Frank to send me some autographs which I still have to this day.
I started collecting TTM in 2009 after an extremely long hiatus from card collecting. At first I would just send to whoever was signing but I have since pared down to trying to get every NY Yankee (and not expecting to complete), all Brooklyn Dodgers and as many Negro Leaguers as I can. From a photographer’s standpoint, one of my most highly prized autographs is the 1952 Gus Zernial Topps card with the baseballs “attached” to the bat.
When starting my education in photography over 10 years ago, this was a card I admired as Photoshop had not been invented yet and there were many questions as to how Gus’ photo was made. One card I would like to own one day (but it’s a bit out of my price range) is the 1953 Bowman Color Pee Wee Reese card where he is suspended in air. The composition of the shot, use of artificial lighting and the chrome film makes for an amazing photograph.
(Dan Xeller photo)
TTM really helped get me interested in this project as, when researching names and addresses, the stories started to come out. Plus, with the acquisition of cards to send out, you would get some neat stories off the back of them. For instance, I photographed Ty Cline (of the 1970 Cincy Reds) and saw that on the back of his 1969 Topps cards that his favorite hobby was photography!! I asked him if that quote had anything to do with his participation in my project and he said “no, it was because you were a nice young man on the phone and I wanted to help!”
Q: Are there other former players you’d like to photograph?
A: I have been fortunate to have photographed Ty Cline, Ransom Jackson and Norman Lumpkin (of the Atlanta Black Crackers). I currently have 3 more people wanting to participate and hope to receive more in my mailbox.
Being based in Charleston, SC, I have been limiting my players to the Georgia/South Carolina/North Carolina areas. I have started to branch out a little bit but since this is funded on my own dime, long distance travel at this time is a hardship. I welcome any and all contacts, hints, notes, favors, inside information, etc… and will return a favor.
(Dan Xeller Photo)
Q: These are stunning photos of Cline, Jackson and Lumpkin. How could collectors get copies for autographs?
If people are interested in purchasing a photo from me to get signed, they can contact me directly at
Q: Future goals?
A: I would like to make it clear that this project is to shed some light on players of the past and their stories
and to get my name out as a photographer. I’m not in this to make any money and anything that I sell will have partial proceeds going directly to the player or to the Baseball Assistance Team. I hope this interview will get the word spread about my project and get people interested in the former players and their contributions.
Go, Dan, go! Anyone knowing a retired major leaguer or Negro Leaguer in North Carolina, South Carolina or Georgia? E-mail this fledgling historian. Help him out with a lead or introduction. I predict some great portraits and histories as a result.
Dan’s lesson for us? You don’t need Hall of Famers for great baseball stories. History remains in all who played our game. All we need to do is seek out the overlooked diamond storytellers NOW.
(All photos courtesy of and copyright Dan Xeller Photography, www.danxeller.com)