Laura Brookman Redefines ‘Autograph Collector’

Meeting Lou Brock!

(Photo courtesy Laura Brookman)

If the autograph collecting hobby world chose an all-star team this season, Laura Brookman deserves to be in the starting lineup.

I’m grateful to Laura for an insightful e-interview, helping us remember that this is a hobby for EVERYONE.

Q: How and when did you get started collecting autographs? I deal with baseball in the blog. Were you an athlete in school? Someone inspired you to be a baseball fan, correct?

A: I really only started collecting autographs when I was about 21. It was something always wanted to do when I was a child, but thought it wasn’t possible and didn’t know where to start. I loved baseball cards when I was young, but was never able to get any autographs.In high school I played a lot of different sports. I was participated in track, basketball, volleyball, baseball, and, the love of my life, cheerleading. Yes, I love sports, I am a female, and I was a cheerleader. I lettered 4 years and was the captain of the squad my senior year. However, baseball has always been a love of mine. I was born and raised in St. Louis, MO, and the Cards have always had my heart! I went to Cardinals games often with my family. The men in my family are serious sports fanatics, so I was always around it and involved with it.

(The first question was for all the guys who’ve said: I wish my Mom/wife/girlfriend/sister/daughter liked baseball!)

Q: First baseball autograph in person? Who, when and how?

A: That’s actually hard for me to remember. When I started getting autographs, I did other sporting events. However, my first baseball autograph was Chipper Jones. He was part of the Braves Caravan, and getting his autograph definitely made my day. I had my “I heart Chipper” hat on and all. Those who know me well know Chipper melts my heart. It was a wonderful experience! It definitely lit my fire for getting more autographs!

Q: When did you first collect TTM? How did you learn?

A: I started TTM’s in 2009. I attended the MLB All-Star FanFest in St. Louis that year and fell in LOVE with Topps Allen & Ginter’s. When I started collecting A & G’s, I started getting them autographed and had a hard time with the ones that weren’t baseball. I joined a website to get addresses and started sending them out. I learned pretty much online, from websites and forums I was a part of. Over the years I have gotten help from other autographers I have met around the country.

Q: Have you asked questions in your letters? What’s a typical letter like for you?

A: Honestly, other than asking for an autograph, I don’t really ask questions. My goal is to keep it short. I try to keep in mind that by responding to my letter and autograph request, I am taking up some of their time. I personally open all of the mail at my work. I cannot tell you how much junk mail I get. I work in Human Resources, so I get a lot of requests for letters typed on letterhead with how much people make and such. I know how frustrating that can be sometimes. Therefore, I do my best to be polite and keep it short. It’s just my MO.

I typically use pink paper…I guess just because I’m a female and I like pink. (And no, I don’t think it increases my chances of getting it back, just from past experiences.) A typical letter would thank them for taking the time to read my letter, tell them why I’m such a big fan or personal story about them, ask for the autograph and return, and thank again. I’m relatively consistent with that, unless it’s just someone I REALLY love!

Q: Best TTM reply ever (or example of something more than just an autograph)?

A: This is actually a hard question for me. I really only send my TTM’s for my A & G’s. And I just don’t get a lot of “extra’s” or cool stuff. But the one I personally like the most is my Bryan Berg on my 2009 A & G. He sent his typical business card signed, which I thought was awesome. But he also sent a very short little note with it. In my letter to him, I referenced the fact that he was in a music video for The Bravery. His letter to me apologized for the delay, and talked about the video and the band. The letter was short and didn’t have much to it. But, I just liked that he took the time to actually read my letter and send me something personal back.

Q: When did you realize that autographs are a male-dominated hobby? How has it helped, or hindered, your collecting? How did you answer the clueless guy hobbyists who might ask, “You collect? Really?”

A: I think I realized autographs are a male-dominated hobby the minute I started. I would say it has helped, and I would say it has hindered. I mean, guys always say girls get more autographs, which is true; but not always. I am more likely to 2 out of a 1 per guy, but really, not that often. Sometimes, it’s definitely a plus being a female in this hobby.

At spring training this year, I managed to bat my eyes and put on a pouty face and got Jayson Werth to come over, when you could see he really didn’t want to. But, at the same time, sometimes players assume that since I am a girl, I’m getting the autograph for my boyfriend or someone else. And, some guys just don’t care. If I was a 6’0”, size 2, blonde hair, blue eyed bombshell, maybe they might pay attention, but really, some guys just look at me as another grapher, and treat me just the same. Which is fine with me.

As far as guys who question my desire to collect, I typically just say yes, I do. And actually, I do get it from guys in the hobby, but a lot of players too. I can’t tell you how many times a player has asked me who I was getting the auto for. I’m usually a somewhat polite, but blunt person. So, I say it’s for me, and yes, I am a female. I’m kind of used to the skepticism at this point.

Q: Current projects or focus on certain autographs? Future goals for your collection?

My current projects are my 1983 Topps set and pretty much all year’s of A & G’s, with most of my focus on my 2009 set. The 1983 Topps set is a more recent focus, but have had some help from friends in building it and it seems to be coming along really well!

I’m always working on my A & G’s. I tend to organize them to an extreme. I have my sets with cards that are missing in excel and word documents on my work computer, my laptop, and my tablet. It’s humorous actually. I’m sure my future goals will be to continue what I’m working on, and the 2012 A & G’s release date is right around the corner. So, I’m sure I will be all over that soon!

Q: Advice to females who might want to start collecting autographs?

A: I would say have fun with it! Don’t get discouraged or frustrated with it. I consider myself a pretty tough cookie. You have to stand up for yourself. You will get pushed out of the way. Learn to get back to where you want to be. I personally know that some of the males in this hobby will doubt that you are actually enjoying it for yourself, and people on forums will make sure you know they do NOT think you actually exist! But if you really enjoy it, go for it!! The sky’s the limit!!

Coming Monday: A letter from pitcher Bobby Shantz!


Was Steve Dalkowski the Inspiration for Pitcher Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham Movie?

John-William gave Steve the Hollywood treatment
with these custom cards!

Is Steve Dalkowski Hollywood famous? Did he inspire the young pitcher Nuke, portrayed so unforgettably by Tim Robbins, in the movie Bull Durham?
Collector and historian John-William Greenbaum pondered the question, saying:

“It’s like a lot of things regarding Steve: it’s partially true. The thing is, most of the stories you hear about Steve have some basis in reality, but were either “almost true”, like when he clipped the top of a batter’s ear in his third professional baseball game (although the real concern was not the batter’s ear…he wasn’t even moving and Steve thought he killed him for a few minutes…it did end his career and gave him post-concussion syndrome), or “almost false”. There’s one part where they reference Nuke striking out 262 batters and walking 262 batters…that is something Steve did in 1960 with the Stockton Ports in 170 IP.
But the more Orioles guys I spoke with, since I was under the impression it was all Steve, I found out that Nuke’s off-the-field antics seem to be much closer to a pitcher by the name of Greg Arnold, who threw quite hard and had no idea where the ball was going. Think Ryne Duren wild instead of Steve Dalkowski wild, though. Ron Shelton, who wrote Bull Durham, has sometimes said it was Steve Dalkowski, sometimes he’s said the character was completely fictional, and other times he’s said part Steve Dalkowski, part fiction. Sometimes you get the feeling that he changes his mind. I’m not alone in that sentiment and some ballplayers noted it. Obviously, I can’t get into his head and figure out how much is Steve, how much is Greg Arnold, etc., but I corresponded with one of the very few men to have played with Steve, Ron Shelton (himself a former pro ballplayer), and Greg Arnold, and that was the late George Farson, who by the way caught Steve’s last game in the Orioles organization.

Mr. Farson was friendly with Mr. Shelton at the very least, and what he did was write me with a bunch of facts about Steve, a bunch of facts about Greg, a bunch of facts about the fictional Nuke LaLoosh, and told me to draw my own conclusion. To anyone who reads that letter, Nuke LaLoosh was Greg Arnold with Steve Dalkowski’s arm and wildness. Again, I can’t claim to be Ron Shelton–he knows himself better than I do–but I can claim to have a guy’s opinion with a unique perspective (only pitcher Rick Delgado, whom I’ve not been able to locate but I believe lives in Puerto Rico, also was a teammate of Steve’s, Mr. Shelton’s, and Greg’s).”

One thoughtful, sincere letter can open new doors in baseball history. I can’t wait for the publication of the Steve Dalkowski book, John-William. Well done!

Coming Friday: Meet Laura Brookman, autograph barrier breaker!

Above is a recent Dalkowski autograph from
John-William’s collection.
Of the signed index card, John-William says:
Attached is one of the rarest variations of Steve Dalkowski’s signature in existence; his “playing days” signature.  They’re a bit more common on team-signed balls than index cards and most of the ones I know of were primarily obtained c/o Baltimore Orioles Spring Training in either 1961 or 1963.  However, I would hazard a guess that this one’s either 1962 Rochester Red Wings ST or 1963 Rochester Red Wings regular season judging by the other signed 3×5’s the collector had.  The rarest are signatures like this found on single-signed baseballs; of the (very) few I’ve seen, I believe most to be side-paneled.  A signature of this type found on the sweet spot, I believe, would be the rarest Steve Dalkowski single-signed ball.

Steve Dalkowski Expert John-William Greenbaum, TTM Minor League Detective

This 2009 card put Steve
on many autograph “most wanted”

John-William Greenbaum has learned the power of TTM autographs. Instead of a signed index card, he’s getting unimaginable first-hand observations of the minor league legend that was Steve Dalkowski.
John-William shared his hobby background, and tips on how he’s reaching the forgotten men.

Q: How long have you collected autographs? How much has been in-person, versus through the mail?

A: I actually came into autograph collecting fairly late, considering I’ve collected cards since 1997. My father really introduced me to autographs when he brought out his collection, which consisted of a signed Sandy Koufax postcard he had signed in 1958 and a New York Mets cap that he had Ron Swoboda sign ten years later.

I never really knew about TTM until I started going onto various baseball forums. As such, most of my autographs since, oh, about 1999 were purchased certified or gotten in-person at card shows. The first autograph I got for myself was actually my mother’s 13th birthday gift to me, which was a 1966 Topps baseball card autographed by Willie Mays. Willie Mays was and is my father’s favorite player since Dad grew up as a New York Giants fan, despite being from the Bronx. His father, you see, had moved there from Manhattan.
The first autograph I got at a show, though, was Willie Randolph in 2002. I’ve since heard some collectors say “oh, that must really have been tough, since Willie Randolph doesn’t like signing autographs.” That was not my experience and as a matter of fact, I found Mr. Randolph to be a very nice guy to both myself and to Dad, who took me there.

My first TTM autograph was a Mets relief pitcher, a right-hander named Juan Padilla. He’d pitched really well for the 2005 Mets and I wound up getting him TTM in 2007. Unfortunately, he’d had all kinds of arm problems. At that time, I mostly bought certified autographs off eBay, but I couldn’t find one of Juan Padilla. So I sent to him and, because my neighbor at the time was a big Minnesota Twins fan, I also wound up sending two cards to Pat Neshek, who signed both of them. One for me, one for my neighbor.

My first retired TTM autographs came after I got Harvey Meiselmann’s 2008 address list. I realized pretty quickly that those Minor Leaguers who had cups of coffee in the Majors who faced Steve Dalkowski would be listed in there. The very first person to respond to me, however, was far from a guy who just had a cup of coffee: it was my good pal Al Ferrara, who batted against Steve in 1960, when Mr. Ferrara was with the Reno Silver Sox and Steve was with the Stockton Ports, both of the Class C California League. He signed his 1971 Topps card for me.

Q: What’s your hobby focus (outside of the Steve D book) today?

A: Definitely the players who played with or against Steve Dalkowski during his career, Major League and Minor League. There are some other ballplayers I’ve tried to collect that were in the Orioles organization at that time, as well, even if they only knew Steve from Spring Training. The more connection to Steve, the more interested I am in having a given player’s autograph. Take Bill “Leroy” Massey, who caught Steve’s first ever game. That’s one of my favorites, as is, of course, the info Bill supplied to me. I’m now looking for George Pena, who caught Steve’s last ever regular season game (Mark Schultz was his last catcher in Spring Training, 1966, and I do have his autograph as well as great info from him).

Q: You’ve corresponded with minor leaguers, teammates and foes of Steve’s. How have you
found their addresses?

A: It’s actually fairly easy. It doesn’t always work, but I have a success rate of over 50%. You see, what I do is go to and look at the box scores I have and look up that opposing player. Virtually always, you’ll get a full first name, middle initial, and of course last name as well as a year of birth. Next stop is the Social Security Death Index. It’s morbid, sure, but you have to remember that some of the ballplayers Steve faced batted against him over fifty years ago. Then you go to both and Enter the name with the middle initial and look for an age estimate. If a guy has a very common name, it starts to get hard, but the less common the name, the better your chances of finding him are.

I should note again it doesn’t always work. The two best pitchers who opposed Steve in the 1960 California League were Gary Kroll, who Harvey Meiselmann has listed in his address book, and Bob Arrighi, who had a truly amazing year and was named the California League MVP: 16-10, 155 IP, 230 K’s, 69 games pitched, every one of them in relief, and oh yes, he came in second for the Cal League’s ERA title with a 2.61 ERA. Well, Bob Arrighi took me FOUR YEARS to find! You see, mistakenly listed his age as his wife’s age and his middle initial as the first letter in his wife’s first name. There’s nothing you can do when something like that happens. I got lucky…I found Bob and consider him a very good friend…but with other guys like Bill Rozich, Manley Johnston, Tom Murray, Joe Pulliam, George Pena, and Pete Olsen, I know they’re alive, but have never been able to find them, likely because of that same reason. 
If you played with or against Steve Dalkowski and you’re reading this, please send Tom an email. I’d like to speak with you.
Q: You’ve gotten their autographs, along with questions answered? What do you have them sign?

A: If I find a photo, then a photo. If I can’t find a photo, then a Signature Card with the picture of a baseball’s sweet spot on it. I also have some Rackrs cards that someone gave me, which are the same principle.

Q: Answer the skeptical collector who might say, “Why get their autograph? What did they do in major league baseball?”

A: I’m getting their autograph for two reasons: first, because I collect the autograph of anyone who ever played with or against Steve Dalkowski. In that way, they all witnessed history; I believe Steve to have been the fastest pitcher with a significant professional career. But secondly, today, we see many Minor Leaguers given baseball cards that never play in the Major Leagues. Tons of coverage. Blogs, newsletters, and scouting reports on the internet devoted to them. And we follow them.
To me, what I do is prospecting fifty years back in addition to getting the signature of someone who interacted with Steve Dalkowski. Let me give you a totally random example: Bill Kalmes. Bill Kalmes was a left-handed pitcher with very minimal interaction with Steve. He was put on the same Winter League roster as a paper move, but that was it. A paper move. I didn’t know it at the time, but Bill confirmed it for me. But then there’s the tantalizing story of Bill Kalmes himself. 

Ask anyone in the Dodgers organization in the early 1960’s and they’ll know the name. He threw almost as hard as Sandy Koufax…he was certainly the second-hardest-throwing lefty in the organization. But Bill had what I believe to be a sort of a mental block: unless he was pitched in a regular rotation, his mechanics would fall apart. The result was two wasted years, then suddenly finding himself, tearing up the Alabama-Florida League for one season, there was talk of promoting him all the way to AAA ball and the Majors were in sight…and then he pinched a nerve in his elbow. And this wasn’t Bill. This was everyone that remembered Bill.
Then there’s Arne Thorsland of Baltimore. He’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever spoken with and by the time he was Steve’s teammate, his “fastball” was going on brains alone. Arne wasn’t always like that, though. When he was signed in 1959, everyone who was his teammate put him at the top in terms of right-handers’ velocity and, more importantly, he threw the most vicious slider anyone had seen.

But Paul Richards was an early advocate of changing pitchers’ deliveries. He wasn’t malicious about it, of course. He just believed that Milt Pappas’ mechanics were essentially perfect and that all of the other Baltimore pitchers, with an exception here and there, needed to copy Milt Pappas. He was trying to stop injuries, not cause them. It was very noble, yet also a bit too radical. Arne Thorsland threw from a low three-quarter arm angle, which was highly atypical of a pitcher of his size (6’4″, 220 lbs). Control problems and shin splints followed, and when Arne changed his delivery to avoid the shin splints, then you had arm problems. Still, he was so highly regarded as a prospect that the Los Angeles Angels wanted to take him over Dean Chance.

Bert Barth was perhaps one of the first victims of “prospect hype”. Signed by Baltimore in 1957, he was literally compared to Babe Ruth. Yes, Babe Ruth. Could he hit? Yes, and from everyone’s recollections, he could do so at a Major League level. Could he pitch? Yes, but not well enough to make it on a Major League level. Bert threw a high 90’s fastball that was flat as a pancake and a slider that just kinda spun. But nobody could really agree if he was a pitcher, a first baseman, a third baseman, or an outfielder. It started to get to him and the pitching interfered with his hitting mechanics. Finally released, he began to tear up the Carolina League when he no longer had to pitch. But baseball was no longer fun for Bert. All that shifting around had turned it into one big chore. He retired at the age of 25, almost a lock to make the Major Leagues.

Ray Youngdahl, Wilbur Huckle, Ike Futch, and Mike Sinnerud were all on track to make the Major Leagues, but freak injuries derailed them. With the exception of Ray, the latter three were literally on Major League rosters. Others, like Ron Kotick, were born before their times. Inheriting Steve Dalkowski’s old nickname of “White Lightning”, Ron threw really hard. But as one Mets organizational player told me, “we used to call him Four-Inning Kotick. He was lights out for the first four innings, then lit up for the next four.” Ron’s speed be darned; he had almost no endurance. He had a heck of a fastball and a slider, though. He’s the type of guy who’d have millions in the bank as a door-slamming closer these days.

Bob Arrighi was MLB-caliber…nobody disputes that. Heck, Leo Durocher thought he would make it. But he also suffered a torn ligament after an alteration made to his delivery in 1961. Even the most pessimistic people I spoke with said Bob was a Major League caliber pitcher at least and a Major League relief ace at most.

With the Minor Leaguers, you look at their records, but for me, as opposed to wondering “what might have been?”, I see the record, I know the league factors, and I know what was. These guys did remarkable things in many cases. We may not remember Art Henriksen or Jim Little or Joe Messina, but these guys flat-out dominated prior to injuries. Then you had guys like Fred Hopke or Conrad Munatones on the hitting side where Sabermetrics proves they were darn good players given where they played, especially. And of course, this was before expansion in many cases and in all cases before the 1969 expansion that briefly, in my opinion, diluted the talent pool because you really didn’t yet have the pipelines of talent that were the Dominican Republic that finally started to show some results during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

Q: Likewise, I’ve thought: minor leaguers don’t want to sign autographs. Many would be bitter they didn’t get a shot at the majors. They want to forget that part of their lives. Can you site an example two of former minor leaguers simply happy to be remembered?

A: Quite the contrary. Many are very happy to be remembered. Although a great many are bitter (and in some cases, extremely bitter), they’re nice people who are more happy to be remembered than they are bitter in most cases. I’ve only had three people turn me down for signing: one is paralyzed from the neck down, one is paranoid (and that ultimately got him released, I later found out), and one just quirkily refuses all autograph requests. He’s a really nice guy, he just will not sign. But everyone else? They like it when you can recite their stats, ask ’em about who they played for, and things like that. I personally think it’s awesome. Happy to be remembered? I’d say everyone. There is one guy I know who only signs because he actually did have his ID stolen, but that’s a pretty rare case, to be honest. Bob Beattie told me he wished he signed more autographs. Same with Tom Klukososki (who legally changed his name to Tom Kaylen).

Q: Getting Steve’s book done is a goal. What are your autograph collecting goals?

A: To get everyone who played with or against Steve Dalkowski. Is that gonna be hard? Oh yeah. But is it something to try for? Yes, that too. After that, probably to get everyone who ever played for the New York Mets. Dad was and is a very smart baseball fan. He knew there was a National League team coming in when the Giants and Dodgers had left, or at least thought there would be. And he was right. Dad was a fan from Day One. And of course, he passed that fandom along to me. Without the New York Mets, I would not be a baseball fan, so I think Mets and Mets organization autographs, too, are high on my list.

Coming Wednesday: Did Steve Dalkowski really inspire the movie Bull Durham?