Would Charlie Brown respond to your TTM autograph request?

Think twice about the letter you’re sending to a current or former player.

Is it the same “form letter” you created long ago, one that used to get you a good response, only okay now?

Do you think it doesn’t matter what you write, or that no one ever reads the letters? The player will either sign, or not sign?

Please, reconsider. Each letter costs $1.10 in postage now. Plus paper and envelopes, not counting the card or photo you might enclose.

Tell those letter recipients WHY. Why do you want an answer?

The late Virgil Trucks once told me: “In the letters, they try to tell me all about my career. They tell me things they think I don’t know, but I do.” Translated, the wise Tiger hurler meant that he wasn’t impressed by letters filled with his stats.

Years ago at a hobby show, Al Kaline spoke with me a minute. He was impressed when I said I could note all the places where he received mail. I began: care of the Hall of Fame, c/o the Tigers, c/o the TV station where he broadcasts. 

Kaline sighed and nodded. Then he raised his eyebrows.

“Don’t forget about my home address,” he groaned.  “I get so many fan letters there that our property tax statement got lost. We keep the fan mail in bushel baskets, and the tax statement got lost in a pile of all the autograph requests.”

Players, current or retired, still have expectations about a letter. Why should you deserve a response?

Here’s some initial ideas:

  1. Tell the reason for writing. For instance, the autograph will help you complete a set. Even a team set. That neutralizes the fear of, “You want MY autograph to sell on eBay?” Players have set goals. They might relate to helping you meet a goal, too.
  2. Tell why this card is special. (No. Don’t list its book value.) Just tell how you got it, or how it made you feel. What do you like most about the card photo?
  3. Tell why this player matters. Did you see him play in person? Was he the first game you saw on your big-screen TV? Did your older brother or dad like that player, too? Do you remember him from the minors?

I think 2 to 3 extra sentences would make your case. Don’t fib. Do be yourself. The truth shall set you free, and get you more autographs (quite possibly).

Even mail-starved Charlie Brown may be skeptical about some of the standard “fill in the blank” letters that some collectors rehash. You want a personal gift from someone in baseball? Try being personal yourself. 



Remembering the two faces of departed Detroit Tiger Dave Bergman

I love this 1982 Topps, not just for
the facsimile autograph, but
the hint that Bergman might
have been signing for fans in the stands

Dave Bergman’s death at age 61 may maintain a hobby mystery.

The famed 1984 Detroit Tigers role player continued his devotion to youth baseball until the end. Anyone who met him in the Detroit area seemed charmed by his enthusiasm and sincerity.
His feelings about autographs weren’t so clear. 
Check the fascinating www.sportscollectors.net for insights about Bergman’s differing signing habits. He was charging for autographs by mail as early as 2010, ending with a $7 per fee. 
Previously, he tried to maintain a limit of one autograph per fan letter. Other cards would be returned unsigned, if at all. And, years ago, I saw him express to a reporter that he didn’t want to answer any questions by mail.
The moral of this story? So many collectors pursue stars first. Don’t assume that only the top names in the game will become tougher signers in later years. 

Ned Garver’s Son Talks Autographs

A good pitcher and great storyteller.
Get this book!
Typical childhood? Imagine watching your dad mobbed by pen-wielding strangers. Consider seeing your dad shuffling more letters and envelopes than 10 secretaries.
Such was life for young Don Garver and his much-adored pitching dad Ned. I’m grateful for Don, who was willing to give the hobby a look back at life with a high-profile parent.
Q: How old were you when your Dad played?  
A: I was born in 1944 so I was on the scene for most of his playing days.  I remember very little about his time at St. Louis.  I was 8 years old when he was traded to Detroit and I have a lot of memories of the years in Detroit.  The players and families did a lot of things together on off days during the season and during spring training.  Lots of days at the beach and a lot of good eating.  His years with Kansas City were my favorites.  I was old enough to be batboy each year during spring training.  What an experience!  I never got out to Los Angeles.

Q: It’s obvious that your Dad carefully reads all his letters from fans and collectors. What was his method for handling the mail so well over the years? (After all, he had coaching in baseball, not in being his own secretary! And, on www.sportscollectors.net, I saw that collectors who recorded their attempts tracked Ned Garver at a perfect 415-for-415 in replies!).    

A: He read and answered all of his fan mail just as he does today.  He looked at fan mail as his duty to the fans.  He never asked for help and nobody read his fan mail but him. I never heard him complain about having to deal with fan mail.

Q: You knew him as a dad. How did it feel seeing fans clamor for an autograph from Ned, from people who saw him in a very different way?  

A: When eating out it was normal to have our table visited by autograph seekers.  We didn’t think anything of it. And I never saw him turn them away.  After the games it was normal to be approached by a large group of autograph seekers as we stepped out of the clubhouse door.  I was always with him in the clubhouse after the games.  I had a uniform in Kansas City and spent most games watching from the bullpen.  When we walked out of the clubhouse I would walk over to the exit gate where my Mother would be waiting.  She never missed a ballgame unless one of us was sick.  There were a few players that walked right through the crowd and never signed anything, but most of them were like Dad.  They signed until they were all gone.  I knew that was the way it was going to be every night.  And I was smart enough not to complain about it.

Q: Your dad’s letter was very humble, replying about his continuing devotion to signing autographs being “It’s always been my policy.” I pointed out that the majority of people writing him today may not have been born when he pitched. Why do you think he’s still so devoted to pleasing fans and collectors, when others from his era might hang up their pens and say ‘I’ve done enough.’?

A:  I believe he will continue to try to please fans and collectors as long as the majority of them are respectful and sincere in their request for autographs.  There are quite a few people who try to take advantage of him by asking for things that are just unreasonable.  Some examples:  Sign a dozen baseballs with stats – no postage, no tip, no thank-you, no please.  Some people want him to write a few pages telling his most memorable events in the big leagues.  That is why he wrote the books.  To tell them about his baseball life.

Players of today don’t sign autographs.  Maybe they don’t get paid enough!  So, fans of today can’t get anything from the players of today but they still like to collect autographs, baseball cards, signed baseballs, etc.  In an attempt to get some autographs they started contacting players of my Dad’s era and found that a lot of them not only gave them what they wanted but provided them with addresses of other old-time players that were glad to help them out.  

Q: Based on the recent letters you’ve seen your dad receive for autograph requests, would you have any tips for writing former players in their 80s (besides sending the SASE)?  

A: Be respectful, always make the return mail process as easy as possible.  Everything is worth more if it is signed.  So if they sign something for you send them a few bucks to show your appreciation.  Don’t overdo it on the signing.  Asking them to sign 5 baseball cards is enough.  Use your head!  Be kind!

You want to thank Don and Ned for their devotion to the hobby? Order Ned’s new book (autographed, of course) for only $25 postpaid from:

Don Garver (Ned’s son)
113 Avalon Drive
Bryan, Ohio 43506

Gates Brown Gone At Age 74

Our friends at
had a great specimen of
Brown’s autograph.
Check out their
Brown page!

Condolences to all Tigers fans.

William “Gates” Brown, one of the greatest pinch-hitters of his generation, has died.

Detroit fans often saw Brown at games. He signed at team functions, long after his retirement.

In person, he was a prince.

However, www.sportscollectors.net listed just 43 successes in 80 tries over the last decade for TTM attempts. No 2013 successes were recorded.

What lessons might remain from Brown’s duality?

As recently as five years ago, Brown was including extra photos with replies. My brother mentioned that his bonus looked like a candid someone snapped. Others said that Brown wrote the photo was from his own collection, even laminating each.

Health problems or even one greedy form letter could have slowed his TTM signing generosity.

Anyone who met Brown got more than an autograph. They got an experience. A handshake, a picture posed for, a story shared — the full effort.

Give that same effort when you write any retiree. I don’t think you have to send a page of flattering lies, or a $5 bribe for a better chance at a response.

Just add two WHYs.

1. Why do they matter?
2. Why are you the most deserving writer in the pile of envelopes?

If Mr. Brown can slide into second with a mustard-drenched hot dog in his pocket, you can write a letter that counts.

A Final Tribute To Virgil “Fire” Trucks


Autograph collecting needs more heroes like Virgil Trucks.

The late pitcher remained grateful to the end. He appreciated fans and hobbyists as much as we adored him.

I wanted to share the thank-you note sent in response…

to MY thank-you note!

I had sent “Fire” a postcard picturing Ty Cobb’s glove. On the back, I thanked him for his years of signing autographs, knowing that he had to stop signing once a broken hip required hospitalization.

Here was his surprising unsolicited reply:

“Hi, Tom,

Thanks for your wonderful card. Also for all the nice things you do for Caroline and I. We both appreciate your help and thoughts.

I’m sorry about my short note and writing. I’m writing this in rehab and have several weeks to go. Yes, Caroline is one sweet person and I’m glad she is my precious daughter.

Enclosed is a card for you if you care for it.

Again, Tom, thanks for all you do, and my best to you forever.

Virgil Trucks

P.S. I met the famous Ty Cobb. Very nice person.”

My best to you, forever, too, Virgil Trucks!

Coming Thursday: Greatest minor league response ever?

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