Before he died in 2006 at age 77, Thornton Kipper gave me a clue of life in 1950s Philadelphia as a post “Whiz Kid.”
The 6-foot-3 righty became an All-American pitcher at the University of Wisconsin. I asked Kipper about being a Wisconsin native in the majors, debuting in 1953. Did anyone he know see him pitch in person? As a Phillies veteran, could he recall the look and feel of Philadelphia’s Shibe Park and its neighborhood? Most of all, did one of his three career victories from 1953 seem ESPN worthy — a moment he was proudest of?
“1. Many times — results were usually good, although I did walk the winning run home in the ninth inning once with 50 relatives and friends in the stands. Also, pitched my first game in the majors (in Milwaukee) – a loss to Warren Spahn.
2. (Regarding Shibe Park) Terrible neighborhood, very dark, dreary atmosphere, and no parking facilities to speak of except one lot and on-street.
3. (His favorite win?) First one — in relief against New York Giants and Leo Durocher.”
Baseball is a game of irony. This career Philadelphia pitcher treasured memories not of Shibe Park, but his real “home” ballpark, County Stadium.
The former player is running a great program, started in 2018. His website describes the foundation as “…committed to making a positive impact in our community by raising funds to bridge the financial gap for low-income families.” Baseball is just one part of the foundation’s mission.
Furthermore, if TTM collectors knew that Freeman used every dollar in autograph revenue for his foundation, who could complain that “Free” doesn’t sign for free?
PastPros, by the way, is one of a growing number of businesses that help former players deal with their fan mail. These middle-men vow to help you get your desired autographs on your items (as long as you pay their price.)
Regarding the second question, I’m unsure about Freeman’s non-signing policy on that Donruss card. In the past, I have found that retired players seem to favor one of the following answers about their autograph restrictions:
(Pictured team) did not treat me well.
I hate the picture on that card.
That’s not me in the picture.
If your choice is none of the above, here’s your chance to set the record straight, sir. The floor is yours.
I included Rich in Baseball By the Letters for the first time in 2010. In the years since, I’ve sought his impressions of the hobby. He’s like the canary in the coal mine. When Rich is pleased with his hobby successes, we can all benefit from his experiences.
I asked him if COVID fears may be limiting his successes TTM autograph signers. Rich replied:
“I’ve been doing very well on autograph responses, but that’s because I have more time to do my homework to determine who is and is not signing. “TTM Autographs Galore” is a good resource site as is “Baseball autographs through the Mail. ” Current players, we’re pretty much out of luck with. I’m hearing that most of the teams are just throwing away requests, using COVID as an excuse to jettison something they don’t want to be bothered with anyway.”
Again, I’m thankful for Rich’s comments. His answers should prompt two questions in everyone:
When collecting TTM autographs, what am I doing well on? (Such as response rate, special requests, getting inscriptions, etc.)
In what area could I improve? (Invalid addresses, getting non-responses, etc.)
By non-responses, I mean the “I don’t sign autographs any more,” handwritten turndown from Andy Messersmith, or an unopened envelope that reads ‘Now with PastPros.’
Rich knows that TIME is the secret sauce collectors need. Check a site like www.sportscollectors.net to see if a retiree has been an invisible non-signer, or signing for free, of late. If Mister X hasn’t responded to a request in the last five years, don’t assume he’ll never sign again. Just know that your odds of a reply could be shrinking.
Join a Facebook group for collectors, just like Rich did. Keep track of your hits and misses, so you can give another collector a specific answer to “what kind of a response did you get from this guy?”
A journalism professor told me once, “If your mama says she loves you, check it out.” Or, in other words, trust but verify. Some of the victims of hobby burnout, those who’ve given up on TTM, may have survived by fine-tuning their methods.
Here’s a post from 2010. I felt blessed to receive a TTM reply from Bobby Thomson, only months before his death that same year. It’s my pleasure to share it again!
Bobby “The Shot Heard Round the World” Thomson owned a nickname even before his pennant-winning home run against the Dodgers in 1951.
An ethnic nickname!
In today’s politically-correct society, speaking of one’s heritage might seem controversial. Some might say offensive. But Thomson, born in Glasgow, Scotland, began sporting the moniker “The Flying Scot” soon after his 1946 debut. In today’s baseball landscape, where colorful nicknames are an endangered species, I had to get Thomson’s take on the title.
“Thank you for writing.
The ‘Flying Scot’ was fine with me. It explained what I was all about — birthplace and moments when I had a chance to use my speed. A sportswriter obviously came up with the name.
The key to getting more responses revolves around writing better letters, right?
However, the world’s best letter may never be seen. What makes your envelope special?
Imagine that you are a retired baseball player. Your wife helps you sort your fan mail. Will you be seeing all the envelopes in chronological order?
“Have you ever seen a stamp like this before?” she asks you. She passes you THAT envelope. You take turns studying the new commemorative. Then, that envelope gets opened first.
Stranger things have happened. Here’s a recent commemorative that even gives a nod to baseball.
These 10 classic Bugs Bunny scenes reimagined by current Warner Bros. artists includes a shot from the 1946 short Baseball Bugs. In this cartoon, Bugs plays all nine positions in hopes of beating the Gashouse Gorillas.