Another vote for hand-written letters?

In the heat of presidential primary season, a vote may have been cast for tradition.

I’ve enjoyed the epic story of Tigers minor leaguer Bobby Hoeft. His book and his Detroit Tigers quarterly newsletter would delight any fan.

One off-hand comment of his caught my eye. Bobby keeps creating “hard” copies of his newsletter, not just posting news online. I realize that he has dozens of former Tigers as subscribers. He mentioned that most aren’t computer users.

“Oh yes — regarding seniors with no computers…I speak for myself when I say it took me up to 2007 before I took them on…To some extent, just give a retired baseball star another pain in the ass…I admit it was only because of my intense typing etc that I was talked into it…but guys like Virgil Trucks, J.W. Porter, Frank Tanana and on and on view it with, “At my age why take on this new technology…I’m happy with my life just the way it is.”

Bobby’s comment sent me thinking. Kohei Nirengi mentioned about Japanese tradition favoring hand-written letters. I maintain that forcing any age person to study my handwriting is cruel and unusual punishment.

Nonetheless, are some elderly ex-players frowning at our computer printout letters, skeptical at how little personal effort went into the correspondence? Do these cyber-shy folk think our magic boxes have cranked out well-disguised, robotic form letters?

When possible, I add a hand-written P.S. That way, the potential signer knows I’ve tried…and that I’ve spared him the pain of a whole page of my scribbles!

Coming Thursday: Tom’s “10 Most Wanted List” — a Hot Stove League edition!

Writing to Japan’s Baseball Stars

The famed logo for Japanese baseball!

Let me say five words to anyone who believes that Japanese baseball has little connection to the Major Leagues:

Hideki Matsui
Yu Darvish

In November, I wrote about friend and collector Kohei Nirengi, collecting TTM autographs of past major leaguers while living in Japan.

Seeing the buzz that Darvish has generated in Texas, I wanted to know more about Japanese autographs. Kohei was kind to supply these insights…

Q: Some American MLB teams are encouraging all players not to sign fan mail. In some cases, like the RedSox, a form letter and pre-printed “autographed” photo will be all you get. For teams like the Pirates or Tigers, much of the roster will supply a price list. Send your item and a donation to the community charity.

You had mentioned that you received Bobby Scales by mail in care of his team in Japan (Ham Fighters?). Whether it is Americans playing in Japan, or current Japanese players, how well do most respond to fan mail? Or, in what ways might it be easier for a fan in Japan to collect current NPB players by mail?

A: Yeah, you’re right, I sent my request to Bobby Scales by mail in care of his 2011 team here in Japan ( the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters ), then I got his signature. I’ve never recorded any dates of my requests via TTM, so, excuse me, I don’t know a successful percentage correctly, my guessing would be 70% or so. TTM is getting popular in Japan year by year, but our interest in it began in this 21st century, I thought, so that here are still fewer fans collect autographs by mail than Americans do there, like you guessed.

Q: There will be more star Japanese players coming to America in coming seasons. From other collectors or your own experiences, had such stars as Ichiro, “Dice K” or Hideki Matsui signed by mail in Japan?

A: Yes, all my requests to the active Japanese ballplayers were sent in care of their each team. I’ve never seen anyone succeeded in getting neither Ichiro’s autograph nor Matusi’s as both were in NPB. However I’ve seen few collecters, who have their own websites or blogs about TTM, could get Matsui’s autographed “baseball” by mail as he played for the Oakland A’s in 2011 season. I have never tried to get anyone’s signature on a baseball, though. As to Dice-K, I knew that Matsuzaka had responded his requests from the fans when he pitched for the Saitama Seibu Lions.

If you try to send the Japanese ballplayers, your handwritten letter is much better than typed one because of our Japan’s traditional custom.

Q: Lastly, what’s been examples of some of your fastest responses from America?

A: Took just 10 days, I remember my fastest response from your good old U.S. FYI, December is not good for TTM because it’s the busiest time of year for our post offices as well as the USPS from Thanksgiving to Christmas, my American friend taught me that.

Thank you, Kohei. I hope your mailbox bulges with responses from both leagues in 2012.

Coming Wednesday: An insight about typed letters, from Mr. Tiger — Bobby Hoeft!

Beyond Steve Sax: Paying For Autographs

Chris Potter (left) and Steve Sax
(Photo courtesy of Chris Potter Sports)

 Thanks to Nick Diunte for sharing a recent fine feature on his “happening” blog, Nick is an all-star journalist, someone with a deep appreciation of baseball and all things collectible. A kindred spirit!

Nick wrote about Chris Potter, the new intermediary handling fan mail for Steve Sax. Potter’s business has a website. Most encouraging is his motto: “The Collector’s Friend.”

In my original feature about Sax choosing to stop signing autographs by mail for free, I mentioned Potter’s role only in passing. Potter is seeing that unsigned cards get returned with a price list. When some ex-players stop signing, they may trash all their mail.

As Nick points out, Potter’s involvement can benefit needy retirees, such as 95-year-old Danny Litwhiler. This man, unlike Sax, never raked in millions during his career.

Last week, I mentioned that former Negro Leaguer Louis Clarizio Jr. would sign for pay. Using an autograph as a way to help someone in need can make sense, especially for someone with a one-year career who played mainly for the love of the game.

However, I can’t help missing the GIFT aspect of the autograph, the service of signing. Add money, and the personal interaction disappears. It’s like purchasing a loaf of bread at the supermarket. The humanity, the idea of one baker making a treat just for you, is replaced. The autograph is now an assembly-line product, something that anyone can own, not a reward for your captivating letter.

In fact, I can’t help but feel sad for the letter writers who try to send memories to a former player like Sax. These days, your cash matters more than your words to many retirees.

Coming Tuesday: Collecting Japanese baseball autographs

White Negro Leaguer Louis “Gray Cat” Clarizio Salutes The Men Who Just Wanted To Play Ball

(Photo courtesy of Kyle McNary. Check out for a great interview
with Clarizio. Kyle has written a fine book about
his friendship with Double Duty Radcliffe.)

Imagine your life feeling like a made-for-TV movie.

Louis Clarizio Jr. lived a baseball adventure that no fiction could match. In 1950, this Caucasian outfielder played for a Negro League team, the Chicago American Giants.

His humble letter provided a fascinating picture of the power of baseball.

First, I asked about his childhood. Clarizio replied:

“Growing up on the west side in Chicago in Little Italy, I was not exposed to many Black people. In elementary school there was only one. In high school, there were several.”

Fast-forward to an instant baseball career!

“While playing on the team called the Chicago Roamers, I was invited to spring training to Paducah, Kentucky, a Phillies farm club.

My friend called and told me the Amour Stars needed ballplayers. I would play two games and week and one on Sunday. Most of the players were Black. Armour Stars were part of the Industrial League.

I worked at the stockyards in daytime and played ball three times a week.

That’s when I started to noticed that Blacks were not treated fair.”

Admirably, Clarizio couldn’t recall teammates complaining.

“We rarely discussed race. When we did, it went something like this:

‘We love playing baseball. Things are the way they are.’

While with the Armour Stars, I was one of the leading batters in the Industrial League, and I was noticed by the Chicago American Giants.

Jackie Robinson was signed in 1947 by the Dodgers. The racists were angry. They complained no whites in Negro Leagues. That’s when I was signing up.”

Clarizio included a photocopy of a 2009 article about his experiences. In the feature, he explained that teammates asked, ‘Can this gray cat play baseball?’ They didn’t say ‘white.’ In those days, everyone was a cat.”

While Comiskey Park was Clarizio’s home ballpark (when the White Sox were traveling), the rest of the American Giants’ schedule was unpredictable.

“When we played, every small town had a baseball team. The American Pastime. The Major League sponsored them. That was, and still is, their farm clubs.

A typical day started at 11 a.m. We boarded the bus and traveled to these small towns to play.

The first thing we did when we got to the ballparks was eat HOT DOGS.

I can’t tell you how many.

Some towns didn’t even have one Black person living there.

We would fill the little stadiums. Most people were good.”

By ‘people,’ I assumed Clarizio meant fans. He added:

“The bad racists threw their beer bottles at me, firecrackers.

When I’d get to the dugout we would all have a big laugh.

‘Double Duty’ (manager Ted Radcliffe) would say, ‘Are you starting World War III?’ He would ask me if I wanted to move to center field or right.”

I’m grateful to this “Gray Cat” for sharing this epic chapter in diamond history. Clarizio’s autograph is available for purchase through The non-profit website helps organize signings to support these history makers. I see it as money well spent.

(Thanks to Kyle Smego at Autograph Addict for suggesting I seek out this barrier breaker.)

Coming Monday: Another side to the Steve Sax mystery?

Seeing Angels ( In My Mailbox)!

All the Topps facsimile
signatures say “Bob.” Yet,
the gifted glove man
graces fans with a “Bobby”
for most TTM replies!

When Bobby Hoeft told about conducting a Baseball Chapel that included the 1970s California Angels, I knew the first team of 2012 that I’d be contacting.

When I received such pleasant reports about Nolan Ryan from former skipper Bobby Winkles, it made me think of a different crew of Angels. Not the many free agents that owner Gene Autry gambled on, but the supporting cast of the 1960s now overshadowed by California’s lavish contracts. Think of the 2012 roster. No matter how successful other players are, they’ll all face the initial question of “What’s Albert Pujols really like?”

Here’s 10 overlooked Angels I remembered. I chose to remember them again with a letter. They include:

Earl Averill Jr.
Bob Duliba
Bobby Knoop
Don Lee
Gene Leek
Dan Osinski
Rick Reichardt
George Thomas
Lee Thomas
Gordie Windhorn

Coming Friday: Amazing memories from Louis Clarizio, white Negro Leaguer!

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