Pitcher Al Worthington’s autograph comes with an honest, caring letter

Collector Tom Rydel shared some useful information with fellow autograph collectors recently.

Reported first on www.sportscollectors.net, Tom shared a letter from former pitcher Al Worthington. In the note, Worthington apologizes for misplacing Tom’s cards. (In reality, all were returned in one week!)

Tom made the great suggestion that other collectors mark the backs of their cards with their name and address. That way, a misplaced card could rejoin its SASE faster. He suggested a post-it note.

Worthington Al autograph
Look at the penmanship, even at age 91. Best of all, Worthington resists the temptation to call “W——-” a real autograph. Collectors get every letter from him!

The idea inspired me. I think those small return address stickers would fit on a post-it note. Avoid writing and rewriting your address by hand. Plus, those stickers will be easier to read than bad handwriting (such as mine!).

I asked Tom about his autograph collecting roots. He replied:

“While living in the Detroit area the Tigers won the world series in 1984 and my love for the game grew. The following season my dad taught me how to write letters (TTMs) to players on the Tigers. My favorite players were Alan Trammell and Cal Ripken Jr. I still have all those autographs today and have grown my collection 36 years later. I still send out TTMs today and enjoy the hobby very much. There is nothing like getting an autograph in the mail.

I mostly collect baseball, basketball and football. I’m living in Minnesota now where hockey is very big and in-person autographs from hockey players is always fun when visiting teams play the Wild. If I have an item of someone (sports, politician, Olympian or actor) I will try to get it signed if at all possible.”

Tom’s a thoughtful collector who employs a main belief of mine: collect anybody and anything you want.

Tom’s thoughtfulness is catching. I wanted to ask all the readers if they could expand on Tom’s idea. Worthington and his wife, in their letter, noted that they were trying to develop a system to better keep track of which cards go in what envelope.

At age 91, Al Worthington deserves supportive teammates on Team TTM. I’ll mail on any other suggestions, Tom’s and otherwise, to the couple.

Lastly, there’s another message here. If someone in their 90s gets confused about keeping cards sorted, couldn’t a retiree in his 40s get mixed up, too? Try the return address post-it note for anyone you contact. Thanks again, Tom Rydel.


Would Rogers Hornsby Sign TTM For You?

I spotted this autographed magazine
page on ebay, offered for $1,234.05.
Would “Rajah” sign more in the
off-season? Hmmm….

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

— Rogers Hornsby

The more I read about “The Rajah,” the more he sounds like Billy Martin supersized. Nope, Hornsby would not have been “Miss Congeniality” on most teams. Sample the awesome collection of quotes from the Baseball Almanac website for a great taste (or distaste) of the man.

Many of you have gotten Al Worthington’s autograph. When this Christian pitcher protested teammates stealing signs, Hornsby was the first to go to challenge Worthington’s manhood in print.

I think many collectors may feel like Hornsby, the first week after the World Series ends.

Hornsby wasn’t the easiest autograph to get. However, I’m thinking he may have signed more in the off-season? After all, baseball fans can make any season baseball season (on paper, at least).

Questions I’ll be asking retirees in coming letters:

1. Did you play winter ball? Players with minimal MLB stats often sparkled on foreign diamonds. Who did they play with, and against? What was life like living outside the USA?

2. If you didn’t play winter ball, where did you work in the off-season? Imagine Joe Garagiola and Yogi Berra working together in Sears in St. Louis. Sound like a TV sitcom, or reality show? It happened! Imagine considering your status as a major leaguer a “part-time job,” needing a winter paycheck to provide for your family. Imagine being waited on by a St. Louis Cardinal or New York Yankee!

Make your by-mail plans now. This is the season for signers.

Coming Tuesday: How Red Sox pitcher Boo Ferriss gives back to baseball — and collectors.

Minnesota Twins Collector Joel Thingvall Helps Build Online Autograph Museum

Imagine the guy in the bar, insistent on getting someone to believe him.

“Really, I almost played for the Minnesota Twins,” he’d protest. “Call Joel Thingvall. He’ll tell you. He’s got my autograph.”

Don’t laugh. There is such a true fan and classic collector. Best of all, Joel’s telling the world about his extensive Twins collection. Instead of dwelling just on Hall of Famers and all-stars, he’s scoured 40-man rosters, minor league team histories and spring training lists to find everyone — including all the ALMOST Twins in team history. Then, Joel is sharing all his conquests on http://www.twinscards.com/, (the internet brainchild of Blake Meyer) offering scans of his massive collection.

Joel shared his insights about the Twins and Twins autographs in this fascinating interview:

Q: How many Twins autographs do you have? What kind of items to you get signed?

I collect exclusively Minnesota Twins, and go for postcards, 3x5s and cards. It’s mostly a question of space needs (I store my cards in photo boxes.) I used to get autographs during the sixties up to the early 70s. A family friend was a corporate season-ticket holder, so I would go the annual spring banquet, which was quite smaller and not many kids in tow. And you only had Topps, basically, so it was getting one card signed. And, in the old days, Topps released cards as series, so you didn’t have all the players in hand all year, which is why 3x5s were so popular then (and before).
When I returned in the 90s, I set sights on getting ALL Twins players. There’s always a couple that I had to get on a ball (Herman Hill, for example) and some that don’t have photo images (Don Williams, another deceased player). But I eventually got them all, then expanded to 40-man rosters. Then I was looking at minor league rosters and decided to get ALL players that were in the Twins organization at one time or another (but not a Twins major league guy) that played in the majors. Just missing a few here, still…many one game or one-year winners, as they say. Then I started going after minor league guys and pretty much have identified ALL players on the Twins roster section at www.twinscards.com that have played in AA ball or above.
There’s no address list for minor league guys, and it is hard to track down those out-of-country, or the Johnson or Anderson that lives in a major state….but every year I try to find a few thru the internet.
I have 22,000+ different items signed by people who played in the Twins system. Everything is on the www.Twinscards.com site (I’m rosterman) except for general 3×5 images…although I am trying to get a good, autograph of all living Twins on a sweet spot card.
Q: How many have been in-person versus TTM?
A: I got a few hundred when I first started back in the 60s. And worked games at least 4 times a year from the mid-90s to 2009 at the Metrodome, where you could easily get players before the game, or bullpen pitchers easily down the line…it’s impossible to do so now at Target Field.
The Twins are sorta fan friendly, although lines have increased, with their TwinsFest and Autograph Party, plus players do multiple signings at ProShops or vendors around town during the season. On the whole, current and former Twins answer their mail. Especially if you grab them before they get too much mail.

Q: Have you made your own cards to get autographed?

A:  I have taken to making “custom” 3×5 cards from the mediaguide headers for players, and also using and sizing yearbook images for custom images of newer players or guys that don’t have a regular Twins card.

You always start out trying to get a signature, then a signed card of a player, than a signed card/image of that player in your favorite team’s uniform.
Q: Pitcher Pat Neshek is a fine autograph signer and collector? He’s the hobby’s best friend. Do you have any tales of interacting with the hurler?
A: I think I actually was the first to send Pat a letter, mis-identifying him as a position player, back when he was doing A-ball. I have also been fortunate to get his first signature on a couple of card releases. We greet each other at events, and he was the winning pitcher at the game I proposed to my wife at on the JumboTron, so that makes him special, too.

Q: Do you have any special TTM successes from retired Twins?

A: You always try to be respectful. The older players really love to hear from fans. Ken Retzer (a guy with a Twins card who never played for the Twins) is a real correspondent with fans. Al Worthington is a peach and always sends a packet of articles and stuff back. I managed to track down Bert Cueto, who lived abroad for years, when he moved back to the United States. I actaully find myself sharing memories with players.

The bad side is that too many cards started coming out for new players, and you have to really make a choice on what series to get autographed. Current players don’t understand why you want “every single card” of them signed, plus it can amount to quite a few.
I also miss the old days when a player would at least put your cards back in the SASE and return them unsigned. You then know they got them and that they don’t sign, which is truly understandable. It’s frustrating to send off cards and basically lose them.
It’s always nice to send extra cards to players to keep. And if you want them to sign a specific item, be clear in that request. Some players have a big stack of pre-signed cards and just send one back from the stack, adding yours to the bottom for someone else someday.
Also, players let mail stack up and that might frustrate them. There’s no rhyme or reason. Jimmie Hall, a notorious non-signer for years, suddenly decided to go thru his mail and us collectors were getting stuff that was sent out 4-5-6 years earlier.

Q: Do you believe there have been times that being a true Twins fan or a team-only collector has swayed a tough signer?

A: The internet has allowed you to send a player to a website or a blog, which can show your seriousness (or geekness). The www.twinscards.com site has been great in general to send Twins players to…especially with the minor league guys…..I have heard from many non-major league guys who enjoy seeing cards of their old minor league teammates. Players do like historical aspects of their work! Blogs and websites excite players!

Players get excited if they see a new image of themselves (like a custom card, or raw reproduced photo) and it’s always wise to send an extra or two along for them to keep.
Some players I have made custom items for them to have at TwinsFest (Brian Raabe, for example) just so people don’t pass them by in the autograph line because they don’t know who he is or don’t have a Brian Rabbe item, so to speak.

Q: What are the pros and cons of collecting all autographs of a franchise like the Twins, as opposed to a higher-profile team like the Yankees?

A: The plus for collecting Twins is that it is still a young franchise (50 years) and as little as a decade ago, you could write and get most players. That has changed of late, as more pass on. But they pretty much are out there in some shape or form. And people started collecting them early, too…so if you have patience, older collectors are passing on their autographs to a new generation.

Collecting more established teams can be tough because of the amount of deceased players, and finding images of many of them (remember, cards were not issued every year and many players never had a card).
Collecting Twins…well, only Twins fans get a kick out of it, and there are many large collectors out there and one finds that the majority of items do stay in collections (amazing how few items are on eBay after, say, a TwinsFest).
What’s interesting is that the most marketable items in one’s Twins collection are probably those non-Twins items. A Yankee fan doesn’t want Billy Martin on a Twins card…wants him on a Yankees card, for example.

Q: Thanks for some great stories, Joel. Any parting advice for collectors?

A:  I know players find it strange when grown men are collecting autographs and stuff, especially with the enthusiasm and wide-eyed wonder kids show in the same circumstances. We were all wide-eyed kids at one point or another, but older fans are hardcore collectors and fans, too. Just a little more near/far-sighted and a bit wider than when they were kids.

Us collectors get carried away with completitis, it seems, and often forget that you don’t need everything all the time, so respect the players and think of them as real people, too. Be courteous, don’t over-indulge in what you send or show up with for signatures, and always make reference to a great moment of their days on the field and a big thank-you for taking time out to make a fan’s day brighter!


One Collector’s Craziest TTM Autographs

Ronnie Joyner has shared his insights as a baseball artist this week. Today, he tells of his life as an autograph collector. Don’t believe that former players care what you put in your letters? Joyner learned early that every word matters.

He recalled:

“Aside from the many great letters I received, there were some dubious (and funny) moments, too, that I remember off the top of my head:

– Tommy Byrne yelling at me for mentioning his St. Louis “Cardinal” years. He never played with the Cards. I meant to write St. Louis “Browns”. We became Brownie acquaintances years later.

– Gene Conley getting snippy about autograph collectors and why he was “forced” to charge. His note informed that he had three options:

1. Throw the enclosed card in the trash
2. Return it unsigned
3. Request a signing fee.

I never minded the guys that charged, I just didn’t like Conley’s accusatory tone. I always felt my thoughtful, hand-written letters should have separated me from the collectors who were only interested in making a buck off a player’s autograph, but some guys just hated the whole bunch of us no matter what. Nowadays, in my mellow old age, I would have just laughed it off. Being an angry young man at the time, however, I had to fire off a rebuttal while rejecting his offer to sign for, what was certainly, a small amount of money. It was the principle!

I sent my card back and told him he could do “option 1.” I told him that it was my contention that any decent guy wouldn’t have “option 1” as an option. How rotten is it to throw a kid’s card in the trash? Anyway, the problem was that I really wanted a signed 1956 Topps Conley because I was trying to accumulate as many sigs from the’56 set, one of my favorites, as possible. So it doesn’t pay to have principles when you want something.

So principled was I that I re-wrote Conley a letter under the pseudonym “Spanky Bozman” — and enclosed the autograph fee. I used my buddy Bill Bozman’s address, but forgot to tell Bill about my scheme. When the signed card arrived at his house, Bill called me and asked who the heck was Spanky Bozman! I had some ‘splainin’ to do.

But to this day, my Gene Conley ’56 “Spanky” card is one of my favorites. I still suspect that Conley knew the whole deal. I did a bio-illustration of him years later to make amends.

– Al Worthington calling into question my Christianity. “All the autographs in the world won’t help you get into heaven”. He enclosed a pile of literature and signed my card. Still, I resented this challenge to my Christianity. I thought I could be a good Christian AND an autograph collector. So, again, in the stupidity of my youth, instead of laughing it off, I rebutted him in a reply. Nothing overly confrontational, but a rebuttal nonetheless.

Stupid kid. I regret it to this day and I may reach out to him again. Funny thing — when I was helping Don Gutteridge write his memoirs back in 2008, we discussed an interesting story about Worthington. Don was a coach with the White Sox all through the 1960s, and Worthington was a pitcher there for a handful of games in 1960. Don, himself as solid a Christian as you’d ever meet, confirmed that the Sox were stealing signs from opposition catchers via a guy with binoculars hiding in the centerfield scoreboard. Worthington, apparently already solidly entrenched in his Christianity, did not like the dishonesty of the covert operations. He complained to management, refused to go along, and was promptly released. As I said, Don was a good Christian man, but he referred to Worthington as a “holy roller” type, which tells me that Worthington’s approach to sharing his Christianity has apparently rubbed everybody wrong forever. Still, I should contact him about the whole thing. I’m sure it would make for an interesting bio-illustration or straight-up article.

– Russ “The Mad Monk” Meyer getting confused. I wrote a long, thoughtful letter to Nats great Buddy Meyer. Problem was, Buddy was dead. I got my lines crossed and thought Buddy was alive and well because I was attributing the “alive-and-well” Russ Meyer’s address to the “dead-and-gone” Buddy Meyer.

Anyway, Russ writes back saying, “I don’t know who Buddy Meyer is,but I used to be a pro ballplayer.” Then he proceeded to write out all ofhis career achievements as if I had no clue who he was. Pretty dang funny. Iwrote him back and filled him in on the mistake. I did a bio-illustration of Russ years later because he was just too colorful not to draw, but, unfortunately, he died a few years before I got around to it.

Gotta love the hobby!”

(Ronnie is pictured at the 2009 NLCS game in Philadelphia. Photograph courtesy Ronnie Joyner)

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