Ty Cobb Disses Babe Ruth in Letter

Did Upper Deck know that Cobb would
want top billing against Ruth?

I troll the Internet weekly, seeking examples of vintage baseball correspondence. I find few.

Is that because letters from baseball players aren’t collectible? Hardly. I feel it stems from a truly small supply. Few letters survived.

I was tickled to see a Ty Cobb letter to a licensing agent. Cobb was concerned about the acclaim Babe Ruth received. Even after he retired from baseball, Cobb’s ego still competed.

Cheers to Nate Sanders Autographs for showcasing this jewel of baseball history. Bidding had topped $3,000 the last time I checked. The moral? Letters matter. And not just for historians. Price guides may not exist for one-of-a-kind finds, but that doesn’t mean hobbyists wouldn’t welcome such revelations in their own collections.

What Should I Write To Them About? Golf!

Here’s a quick tip for the holiday weekend:

Baseball is a sport. Players are sportsmen. Some might define the term as “doing stuff outdoors.”

Golf has strange ties to baseball. It’s the top activity for someone’s off day. Charity tournaments. Every former player I’ve tried to call (even the 80-somethings!) are often “out on the course.”

The Tom Stanton book is a fun read. How could golf appeal to a superstar baseball player? The clues are all in Stanton’s fine dual biography.

Sadly, some former players might have considered baseball their job. Golf was their PASSION.

Make a connection in your letter. Golf might be a perfect opportunity.

Pitcher Don Johnson’s Yankee Finale

Former pitcher Don Johnson enjoyed a memorable roadtrip during the 2010 season.

Identical Signature 56 Years Later!
He participated in the Yankee Old-Timers’ Day honoring the 1950 champions. Johnson visited a “new” Yankee Stadium, but still felt at home.

I wrote him, asking if it was fun. Only fun? Johnson replied, sharing how much the time meant to him.

“It was a ball putting on that uniform again. It brought back a lot of good memories.

“That was my last hurrah.”

More than 60 years later, Johnson still kicks himself for failing to get Babe Ruth’s autograph. Read what he missed in this New York Times article.

Tomorrow: What does it feel like to be on a baseball card? A former Chicago White Sox player shares some surprising answers.

One Son and One Collector Honor Yankees Bullpen Catcher Joe DiGangi

The hobby will never forget the late Joe DiGangi. This blog recalled the extraordinary efforts of the torchbearer of Yankees history with a June 23 post. Two follow-up responses need to be shared, the second from Mr. DiGangi’s own son.

BBTL friend Tony O’Neill wrote:

Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed this post. My response from Mr. DiGangi is among my very favorites. I sent him 2 4×6 photos of himself with Joe DiMaggio and Bill Dickey as well as a 1933 Yankee team photo previously signed by Bill Werber. I received back from him a Yankees emblem with his name that he signed, a photo of him with Tommy Lasorda,signed. A 1941 Yankee team photo which he wrote

“I am not in this photo since minor league players came from Newark and Kansas City to look them over. I and two others had to take a back seat after all the work we did all year long. PS I got $500 for my cut.”

I am assuming he was talking about the Yankees looking over some minor leaguers, and his World Series cut.

I also received from him a photo of himself catching while the Babe was taking a swing during spring training in 1933. Also a copy of the famous “Lou Gehrig Luckiest Man” speech photo, which he was in the bullpen warming up Red Ruffing.

In his letter (Nov 6, 2008) he apologized for taking so long as his wife suffered a stroke 2 months previous. He asked me to keep her in my prayers. He also stated she was on the good side of it all now. Joe said that being in the same clubhouse as Babe Ruth, and Babe giving Joe a new pair of spikes sure made a hit with him. Joe called Babe “Mr Baseball” of his day, and the whole team in general was great. He told me he went to war and played baseball in Oahu, Hawaii and Honolulu with his Seabee team and played the other service teams. He stated he worked hard but had lots of fun in Hawaii. He then went to the Marshall Islands for 9 months, and then on to Saigon for 13 months. The war ended and he went back to Brooklyn. He finally closed by telling me to write him anytime, and signed for him and his wife, Connie.”

Everyone found Joe DiGangi to be an autograph collector’s best friend. How could someone have such enthusiasm for the game he left more than 60 years earlier? His son provided additional insights with this moving letter:

“Thank you for the kind letter about my Dad –Joseph DiGangi —who was the Bullpen Catcher for the Yankees from 1933 to 1942.

Indeed there are those who measure an autograph’s worth only by the yardstick of who was on the roster of a particular team or who was on a certain baseball card in a certain year—

They actually missed the Real Game by not approaching my Father while he was still alive and asking for his story.

He was the personification of the Game—he played at a time– 1933—- with a team whose history will never be repeated–

That special 1933 Yankee team has most members of any team– in any league in history —to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame– and that is indeed my old man is sitting in the front row of the 1933 Team picture. How many son’s can say that.??

It was never an issue with him that he was just the bullpen warm up catcher and didn’t have a number on his pinstripes or that he only made $1,200. a year showing up for Home Games. The Pride he carried was from the fact that he actually wore the Yankee Pinstripes and he knew only a very few men could ever lay claim to that.

That Pride was in the broken fingers of his hands–fingers broken by Lou Gehrig’s foul tips during batting practice—

Yet those crippled and claw shaped fingers scrawled out hundreds of hand written historical letters –often written in pencil–often several pages long—sent to any true believer of the Game who requested it.

His letters described the Pride of what it was like to be be a dirt poor kid from Brooklyn — to take the subway on Game Day to the Stadium–to Yankee Stadium–to the House That Ruth Built and to suit up with all the Greats; to spend an afternoon playing a Game that will never be forgotten or ever be repeated–

He was actually there –right where we can only try to imagine being —to be there to toss the ball with the Babe–to get him cigars and the occasional belt—to be alone on the field after each 1941 Game pitching hundreds of batting practice balls to Joe DiMaggio so that he could continue on with his Streak–and to be an eyewitness to that special sad day when Gehrig made his famous farewell speech at Yankee Stadium–

And maybe most importantly –that Pride came from knowing he was a real part of history and that his being there at that very moment actually mattered to men who we can only read about and admire in history books.

That’s Yankee Pride– and he had it.

He shared that Pride with those who took the time to listen to his stories. He gave away hundreds of Yankee pictures to hundreds of young boys and to hundreds of old men. He even gave a few to a couple of Presidents. And every one of them knew he was the real deal—He was the guy from Brooklyn –who played the Game –when it truly was a Game.

That was my Dad.

Best wishes Joseph DiGangi Jr.”

Thanks to Zell’s TTM Autographs for use of this image — a couple of Joes!

Baseball Passings Serving the Hobby

If autograph collectors field an all-star team in 2010, David Allen Lambert should be first on the roster.

A collector since 1981, Lambert is serving the hobby, and baseball world, by forming the Facebook group “Baseball Passings.” He’s offering a respectful, meaningful way to note the obituaries of anyone connected to the majors, Negro Leagues or the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Additionally, online tributes can be left for those who have died.

Lambert, a talented online genealogist for the New England Historic Genealogical Society, detailed the origins of “Baseball Passings.”

Q: I’d like to know what inspired you to create Baseball Passings. One individual player’s death?

A: Since I was a teenager I was interested in the oldest living baseball players. This came into play when I first wrote to Smoky Joe Wood of the (debut 1908 Red Sox). After that I wrote to all players from 1910-1919, then 1920-1929 and so on. Long before a regular list of the older players was provided on a regular basis to the Hall of Fame I was doing it still in high school.

From a variety of sources from SABR, to collectors I started a round robin email regarding the passings of former MLB, AAGPBL, and Negro League players. I thought in the age of social networking I would give it a try on a Facebook group. This enables others to post passings, and I have made the leaders in the Baseball research field and hobby field who have joined my group as honorary group administrators.

Q: Have teammates or family members of the deceased contacted you?

On Facebook I am friends with the daughters of George Cisar, and Jim Roland. They both have responded to the posts either on the wall of the page, or personally to me. I am also honored to have my friend who is Babe Ruth’s grand-daughter be part of the group.

Q: Some collectors might think, ‘Why do this? It’s too late to get autographs from someone who’s died.’ How has this helped you as an autograph collector?

A: I think more just saving postage for collectors regarding writing to some who has died. I feel like we are providing a service to have the widows, and or family of the ball players from having to reply to requests after their loved one is gone.

Q: How can readers join the Facebook group or help you as you keep gathering info about Baseball Passings?

If you are a member of Facebook, simply type “Baseball Player Passings” in the search bar. If not, you can reach the group directly at:


Q: Who have you met or discovered in your baseball research?

A: The photo shows Lambert with Silas Simmons at his 111th birthday in 2006. I was responsible for re-discovering this former Negro League Ballplayer back in 2005. I was honored to be at his birthday celebration and present him a plaque from SABR(Society of American Baseball Research).

I was also responsible for exposing the fact a Florida man who died was not the real baseball player Bill Henry from the Red Sox, and other teams of the 1950s and 1960s which made national news.

Thanks to David Allen Lambert for one potent reminder: write to your favorite retired players TODAY.

Readers: who are other unsung heroes of the hobby who deserve a tip of the cap?

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