Just One Hit? Only One Win? Author George Rose’s Books Salute These ‘Baseball Wonders’

Author George Rose reflects
at Fenway Park

Less is more!

No one knows the truth of that old adage better than George Rose. The collector-turned-author has penned two fine books, One Hit Wonders and One Win Wonders. Both tell the overlooked stories of the men who tasted only the briefest glory in the bigs.
Here’s George’s fine e-interview:

Q: You were an autograph collector before an author? How much of your collecting has been in person vs. TTM? First autograph?

A: I remember getting a pack of 1978 Topps for some reason or another when I was 6, but I didn’t really start collecting baseball cards until I was 8 in 1980. That was 32 years ago, and I haven’t stopped.

The first autographs I ever got were in person: Rick Leach and Dave Rozema did a signing at a local mall before the start of the 1982 season, and I was hooked. I remember reading in one of the baseball price guides at the time (before Beckett) that some players signed autographs through the mail if you wrote to the team. My first TTM request was Pete Rose on a 1982 Topps. He was my favorite non-Tiger at the time, because we shared the same last name. I wrote to Johnny Bench next, and it cascaded from there. I purchased Dennis Eckes and Jack Smallings’ Baseball Address book, and my mailbox saw a drastic rise in use.

Aside from the very rare baseball card show in my area (I remember meeting Mickey Lolich at one and Denny McLain at another), all of my collection was TTM until I started driving in 1989. By that time I had a collection of probably 3,000 autographed cards.

Q: Tell Me About ONE HIT WONDERS in 2004. Who did you make contact via mail with? Had you ever asked questions by mail before?

A: When I was in college in the early ’90s I made it my goal to be a published author by age 30. I had no subject or idea in mind, I just want to write a book. I got serious about it in 2000, and came up with an idea that had never been done before. There were a couple of books out about cup of coffee players at the time (Richard Tellis’ Once Around the Bases is a great one) but no one had ever wrote a book about player who had just one career hit.

So that became my project. I started writing every living member of the One-Hit club (about 200) in 2001 and asked them to share their memories of their one career hit. In these letters I did not request an autograph. There is a very fine line between being a researcher and an autograph collector, and you don’t want to cross that line. About 50% of the players I wrote responded; a few said they weren’t interested, some just gave me a very brief synopsis, and some wrote 3+ page letters back. I talked to some players and/or their widows/spouses on the phone, and met about a dozen in person.

Q: Collectors complain about trying to write a thoughtful letter to a cup of coffee player. Do you have examples of  players unwilling to talk about their brief careers? Who did you win over?

A: Back when I started this project, there was very little information on the internet about these types of players. Minor League data was for the most part  non-existent, and www.baseball-reference.com was just starting. I researched these  players the old fashion way; in the libraries with microfilm and dug through  their files at the Hall of Fame. (The HOF has a file on every player who ever  appeared in at least one MLB game. Some of these players had empty files,  there was so little known about them).

Slowly I put the book together and it  came out in 2004. Now the internet has much better info about obscure players, and baseball-reference, the baseball cube (and others) all have minor league data, and sometimes college and high school records.

I would suggest that anyone wanting to write these players do a little research, and let the player   know that you are interested in their career and why.

Some players did refuse to talk about their brief careers, some are still very bitter for one reason or another 30, 40, 50 years after the fact. Most though have fond memories of their time in the Majors, no matter how short.

One player that sticks out in my mind is Dana Williams. I interviewed him in 2002 when he was coaching the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in the Midwest league. He was an incredible hitter in the minors, and was part of a tremendously talented group of outfielders coming up through the Red Sox system in the mid 80’s. A group of five were all ready for the Major Leagues by 1986-7: Mike Greenwell, Ellis Burks, Kevin Romine, and Brady Anderson.

In 1985, Dana was considered the best prospect of them all and was the Red Sox Minor Player of the year. He had two very good years in Pawtucket in ’86 and ’87 (hitting .329 in ’87), but saw the others get the call-up before him.

In 1988, the Red Sox asked him to change his approach  and become a home run hitter (his previous high had been 8). He complied, and hit a career high 10 in ’88, but his averaged dropped to .253. Going into Spring Training in ’89 as a 25-year-old, he was no longer a prospect and Burks and Greenwell were established stars. He was finally called up in June ’89 to be showcased as trade-bait, and later that year he was shipped off to the White Sox. He did not get along with his manager in AAA Vancouver, and was regulated to part-time duty. Dana split ’90 with the White Sox and Cubs   systems, and was out of organized baseball by 1991 at age 28.

He went on to become one of the first stars of the Northern League, and then enjoyed a long career as a minor league coach and manager. When I spoke to him in 2002 he was still bitter about the way he was treated by the Red Sox, and he did not watch MLB because he couldn’t stand watching former teammates and friends (like Ellis Burks), still playing.

I’ve kept in contact with him over the years, and now that everyone he played with in the minors is retired, he enjoys watching players he coached having success in the majors (such as Adam Jones).

Q: For both your books, I think some readers might guess that all the players would be angry and bitter over not getting more chances in  the majors. Who’ve been some grateful exceptions?

A: There are a few players who seem to have only very fond memories of their MLB careers and are very grateful they got a chance to live their dream. Brain Koelling, Neil Fialla, John Sevcik, Rankin Johnson III, Chuck Lindstrom, Dave Dowling, and Brad Holman come to mind.

Q: What kind of feedback have you gotten from those in baseball about the books?

A:  I’ve been blessed with the support I’ve received from a lot of people in baseball. I’ve been on many national radio shows, book tours, and have met some great people in the game. The support the A. Bartlett Giamatti Library at the Hall of Fame has given me has been tremendous.

Q: I remember you posted on SCN about Jake Striker after he lost his wife. How many of the men profiled have you kept in touch with?

A: I’m lucky I can call many of these guys my friends. I keep in regular touch with about a dozen of the players I’ve profiled in my books. A lot of these guys reported a big increase in the amount of autograph requests they received  after the books came out, and continue to do so years afterwords. Jake is a good friend of mine, and one of the nicest men to ever play the game. He responds to 100% of his requests, and usually includes extras and a letter.

Q: I was impressed that you sent a thank-you note with 71 extra card  to Tracy Jones as a GIFT, after he sent free autographs to anyone e-mailing him. How many thank you notes do you send for autographs?

A: Of course I say please and thank you for every request, but when a   player goes above and beyond, I feel it is only right to thank him for his efforts. I thought the offer Mr. Jones made of sending everyone an autographed card who simply asked for one was tremendous. I remember watching him play with the Tigers, and he was one of my favorites. I thought it was only right that I send him some cards so he can continue to send them out if he so chooses.

Q: Plans for future books or baseball writings?

A: I have three books on the burners right now. 1) The Complete Staff, about the 1980 Oakland A’s starting five 2) A book about the history of the Silver Slugger Award 3) A book about professional baseball players who died during the season or while they were still active. Another volume of One Win Wonders is also in the works.

Q: Hobby goals?

A: My collection has changed many times since I  started back in 1982. In the past few years I’ve focused on collecting autographs of players I feature in my books. I’m also the President of Walk For Kate (www.walkforkate.org), a non-profit charitable organization striding to find a cure for brain tumors.  

Lately I’ve been asking players to sign items that we can later auction off at one of our various events. The response from former players has been outstanding, I am constantly amazed at how generous retired players can be.

Q: Advice to a collector who’d like to seek something besides an autograph for their next fan letter?

A:Tips for asking a good question? My best advice would be to be sincere in your request and do some research before writing the player. Find something in his career that interests you, and ask   about it. Maybe he had a career-year in the minors one season, or had a tremendous college career. Most of the more obscure players love to be remembered, and are very fan-friendly.

Q: How can readers get your books autographed from you?

A: You can purchase both One Hit Wonders and One Win Wonders from any bookstore or online retailer, such as Amazon or Barnes and   Noble (both in book and e Book form); or you can purchase directly from me at  www.baseballwonders.com Of  course I will gladly sign anything you would like me too! You can also email me at george@baseballwonders.com

My thanks to George. If any of you would have an autographed contribution to this all-star author’s noble charity, please e-mail him.

Coming Monday: Another side of one of baseball’s biggest pranksters of the 1960s.

Recalling Young Jim ‘Catfish’ Hunter

As evidenced by the facsimile
sig on the 1967 Topps,
Hunter embraced his
fictional nickname immediately!

Pitcher Tom Harrison wasn’t the only youthful newcomer on the 1965 Kansas City Athletics staff. He remembered a young teammate, one Jim Hunter, writing…

“First of all, we were competing for the same position, as well as we were both fairly young. Jim had a lot of pitching experience, and if he hadn’t practically blown his foot off during a hunting accident, he would have signed for a lot more money than then $75,000 he settled for.

Jim had great composure on the mound. He also gained great control during his career. He was a tough kid, and because of his accident never had to worry about the military.

He got his nickname from (team owner Charlie) Finley right after he signed.

I ended my military service in Mass., 1969. Joe and Catfish invited me to their game with the Red Sox. I also saw them in Oakland during the 1970 season. I was going to college in Sacramento at the time.

Catfish had his last public appearance just before he died in Oakland, and he had to keep his hands in his pockets because he could not move his arms. Very sad.”

Coming Friday: Just one hit in the majors? Only one win? Author George Rose shares stories of “Baseball Wonders.”

1965 Kansas City Athletics Pitcher Tom Harrison Remembers Mule-headed Teammate

For years, fan interest kept the A’s
mule mascot kicking. I spotted this
vintage sticker offered on ebay.

Don’t sell the “cup of coffee” player short. Someone can build more memories in two weeks than some superstar after two decades.

My exhibit A is Tom Harrison, who pitched in just one game for the 1965 Kansas City Athletics.

He made the season come alive again in his reply. His comments follow:

“First of all, thanks for taking an interest in baseball and secondarily, an interest in my short big league career. My first year, I played in Daytona Beach, Fla. I had a 6-7 record, but left in July, leading the league in strikeouts and ERA. Notable teammates at Daytona were Felix Millan, Alex Rodriguez (catcher for the Angels ’60s) and Joe Rudi.

From Daytona, I went to Lewiston, Idaho, and played for the Broncos. Record-wise, nothing notable, except I got my ass handed to me on more than one occasion.

The first three games, I gave up seven home runs. In Daytona, I gave up two home runs in 19 games. You either learn from your mistakes or go home. Notable players were John Donaldson, Ramon Webster, Tony LaRussa, Bill Edgerton and manager Bobby Hoffman, who played for the World Champion New York Giants, 1954.”

I asked about “Charlie O,” the Athletics mule mascot. No costumed character. The real animal! Tom replied:

“I only remember the mule during our first road trip. Ken Harrelson rode him in Yankee Stadium, and Charley (Finley, team owner) got him into the Americana Hotel.

This is the crap that Finley concerned himself with.”

However, I wondered if the mascot budget might have caused players to get their basic needs overlooked. Tom answered:

“Being that this was my first and only experience in the bigs, everything was fantastic. Somebody else cleaned your shoes, washed your clothes and took care of all your basic baseball needs.

What a life!”

Lastly, Tom reminded me that statistics never tell the whole story. For instance, I asked if hockey was ever a choice for the Canadian-born athlete. He responded:

“I heard more about my place of birth after my career. I left Canada at 18 months, so hockey never entered into my psyche. I worn born in Trail, British Columbia, and in 1936, the Trail Smoke Eaters were the world amateur champions.”

Coming Wednesday: Memories of Jim “Catfish” Hunter.

Ernie Harwell’s Son Remembers

Gray Harwell knows baseball.

He grew up as the son of legendary Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell.

Most importantly, Gray knows baseball fans. He went to Comerica Park in 2010 to thank members of a grateful city who wanted to pay their last respects upon Ernie’s death.

We can thank the Florida minister for sharing more memories of his father. His book My Father’s Faith is new for this season. Currently, the title is available only as an Amazon.com e-book, although a print version is expected in May.

Here’s Gray Harwell’s e-interview:

Q: When you were young, how did your Dad explain the mystique of autographs?

A: My dad never had to explain the mystique of autographs to me because as a boy I was after autographs from the ballplayers, just as the fans were trying to get dad’s. After an early Baltimore Orioles game ( 1956 or ‘7 ) I was in the clubhouse after the game with my dad when I naively asked a young pitcher who had just lost the game for his autograph. He turned a red angry face towards me and said, ” yeah, I’ll sign in in my blood”.

My mother and brother and I were so used to people coming up to dad for his autograph that we really didn’t even think anything of it  It was just the way it always was for us and we hardly noticed.

Q: How was your Dad with autograph requests by mail?

A: Dad always tried to respond to his mail. He remembered when he was just a fan himself and how much it meant to him when people he admired would write him back. Mom always helped dad with his mail, as a former English teacher she was his “spellcheck’ and editor for just about everything he wrote. At almost 93, she can still beat me at Scrabble!

Q: What baseball content will we find in your book?

A: The baseball content in my book is mostly a summary of the high points of dad’s amazing seven decades experiencing baseball history first hand. There are also some baseball stories that many have never heard, related especially to his faith.

I had the privilege of being the Bible study leader for the Tigers when they were World Champions in 1984. My Father’s Faith recounts some of the great experiences Dad and I enjoyed together in Baseball Chapel that year with Lance Parrish, Darrell Evans, Howard Johnson and others. I also tell how sports writer, Waddy Spoelstra, and Dad were unlikely instigators of Baseball Chapel in the early ’70s.

Q: Anything else you’d like fans to know?

A: I would love your readers to buy My Father’s Faith because I think they’ll enjoy discovering what really made my dad the amazing man he was. As his youngest son, I tell “the rest of his story”, from a very personal perspective.

My mailing address is 12618 Grandezza Circle, Estero, FL 33928. The book in print should be available on amazon .com “in the next few days”, following your blog on the 13th. I’d be glad to furnish a bookplate with my autograph for any of your readers who purchase my book and send me a self-addressed stamped envelope. 

Author Adds Berra, Guidry Autograph Insights

Last week, I cheered for the new book Driving Mister Yogi.

I’m grateful that author Harvey Araton has shared with us some autograph insights about the two stars of his new title.

Q: A few lucky collectors have received autographs from Yogi, often writing in care of spring training. Mostly, requests are returned with a price list asking for $100 per signed card. What did you learn about Yogi’s fan mail?

A: The subject of fan mail did not come up with Yogi but as you know, Yogi is 86 turning 87 and can only sign on a limited basis. His sons, Tim and Dale, run the family’s business, establish their own guidelines and what people receive presumably comes from them.

Q: Ron Guidry has been just as tough to collect through the mail. The only responses in the last few years have come in care of spring training. What did “Gator” say about autographs?

A: Ron is very private person, so the notion of answering fan requests from home is highly unlikely. He does a number of shows every year, generally timing them to his visits to New York for Yogi’s golf tournament in June, Old Timers Day at Yankee Stadium and Hall of Fame induction weekend, which he usually attends with Yogi (though that is on a year-to-year basis at this point.)

Q: Many readers might hope to get their copies of “Driving Mister Yogi” autographed by the two main characters. Any suggestions?

A: Yogi and Ron did 3 separate signings for “Driving Mr. Yogi” this week and I believe signed close to 2000 books. There are no other dual signings scheduled though I believe Ron is doing one in the Lafayette, La. area this month. I would think they would sign the book together in Cooperstown this summer.

Q: Of course, collectors would want you to autograph their book, too. I don’t think mailing books to your newspaper would be a good idea. Are there signed bookplates or other possibilities?

A: No, the Times would not appreciate books showing up at the office so I would not recommend that. The only signing I have scheduled right now is at Words in Maplewood, NJ in June.

Thanks again, Harvey.

Coming Friday: Remembering Ernie Harwell through a son’s new book

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