Talking autographs, detective work with baseball author Brad Wax Pack Book Balukjian

1986ToppsPackImagine the hurler on the mound unafraid of telling you what pitch is coming.

That’s Brad Balukjian. As he criss-crosses America seeking 13 men who appeared in his 1986 Topps wax pack, the author still made time to share his game plan.

I mentioned Brad’s epic project in an earlier blog post. Since then, I see many others are seeking him out on Twitter, Instagram and his website

Brad used online databases, collector sites and the Harvey Meiselman Baseball Address List to locate his 13 wax pack acquaintances. His two-page letter detailed the whole project, offering a link to the website that noted his many articles (including the sports features for the Los Angeles Times). 

One former player didn’t respond. Brad got crafty, and grabbed some old media guides from the 1980s. This man’s wife was noted as a teacher. One e-mail to the woman brought a response from her ball-playing husband.

Brad’s TTM pursuits gave him insights about collecting. “The men I’ve met honor by-mail autograph requests,” he surmised. “Some will save up letters for a couple of months, then answer everyone on a Saturday.” 

On an early Tweet, Brad photographed some envelopes from Jaime Cocanower. One had “Donation Enclosed” inscribed, with $2 in cash inside.

“He just laughed,” Brad said. “I don’t think he signed because of that.”

After several meetings with retirees, Brad added, “They seem suspcious when a letter has 5 or 6 cards. They think you’re going to sell the autographs.” For a persuasive letter, Brad advised keeping it simple, no more than a page. “Don’t be too cute. Be yourself.”

Brad said he discovered a “bit of a disconnect” in his first meetings. “How these men view their careers isn’t as romantic as we might think,” he said. “They are not that guy any more.” Brad’s meetings are detailing some of the struggles and life changes each man faced after retirement.

“In some ways,” Brad added, “I don’t even consider this a baseball book.”

I found Brad by phone in Naples, Florida. He was fresh from a meeting with Don Carman, his childhood hero. The pair played catch before Brad hit the road again.

“When I was nine years old, I went to the pharmacy and bought Don a birthday card,” Brad remembered. “I never got a response, but I didn’t know about a self-addressed, stamped envelope back then.” 

The pair joked about Carman’s admission that he found a shoebox of fan mail some 20 years later. “I wanted him to find a shoebox with my birthday card, too.” Brad said.

Carman confided to Brad that he found a new appreciation for baseball cards after retiring. “He said he could never master a change-up in his career,” Brad said. “After retiring and coaching, Don said he learned the grip by studying baseball card photos.”

Don’t fear Brad going silent when his road trip ends. To keep his readers-to-be ready for the book’s 2017 release, he says he’s considering podcasts. Conversations with other former players.

Yes, others depicted in the 1986 Topps set.

Once the book is out, I hope Topps will reward Brad with his own card. He’ll be one autograph worth waiting for.


Phillie Chris James Signs S-L-O-W-L-Y!

This card was in every
pack I bought that year!

You know how popular those campfire ghost stories are?

I imagine old-timers reliving their diamond days. Then one retired player describes being haunted by a box of fan mail from the past. Dusty. Old. Neglected…and mad! BOO!!!

Just when it seemed Don Carman had a record for leisurely replies, I see on the always-amazing hobby website that some collectors might need to carbon-date their envelopes from former Phillie/Indian/Padre/Giant/Astro Chris James.

A couple of collectors studied the vintage commemorative stamps to guess that the response was somewhere between 16-20 years in the making. James added a FOREVER stamp to each reply.

I looked up the website of James’ Texas business address, Fish and Still Equipment. It seems the company sells tractors, not sporting goods.

Someone popped in $5 for the slugger, getting a response in just two weeks. A little creative mailing might have worked just as well

Face it. Not every former player spends every day fixated on baseball (like us).

I’m guessing that his job keeps James outside a lot. Just a guess, but I bet he’s an outdoor sportsman-enthusiast, living in Texas. Golf at least. What major leaguer has never golfed?

Here’s what I’d do:

I’d only mention his baseball career at the beginning of a letter. I’d reference living near a minor league team he played for. Or, if I was on a farm, or owned a tractor, I’d tell about that. I’d send a snapshot, plop a John Deere logo on the envelope — anything to stand apart. Don’t be shy. Write “My Tractor Tale Inside” on the envelope. I’d let him know I had learned about his CURRENT life with Fish and Still. Read their “mission statement” and “core values” on their website, then share your own impressions with James.

Most of all, I’d get a FOREVER stamp on the SASE and be patient. Any autograph request to Chris James should be counted as “missing in action” for 16-20 years. Only then can it be branded a non-response.

COMING MONDAY: Slugger Bob Oliver, under attack? 

Pitcher Don Carman Signs, Slow But Sure

Not a pretty signature,
but a generous signer —
when he rememebers his mail!

Pitcher Don Carman enjoys a special kind of fame.

In 2006, Slate documented how Carman employed the “better late than never” approach. He found misplaced fan mail and answered autograph requests that were about 15 years old. The article seemed quite touching, an instance of a retired player wanting to do the right thing. He talked about buying extra postage for more than 200 tardy replies.

Even though the feature is a few years old, there’s a contemporary moral for the hobby. I see by monitoring that a few other retired players are taking YEARS to answer. Therefore, there’s plenty of reasons why your self-addressed, stamped envelope should have a FOREVER stamp.

Regarding Carman:

1. How many times can he “write” his D—- C—- version of an autograph in one minute?
2. Slate said Carman worked with agent Scott Boras. Did the agent encourage Carman to abbreviate his signature? I’ve seen on ebay an index card autograph, supposedly from Carman, with every letter in his name quite legible. That signature would take forever!
3. On the SCN website, I see that Carman’s recent by-mail replies have run anywhere from seven to 282 days. In the last two years, he’s been getting to everyone in MONTHS, not years.

I’m going to write Carman this month. Stay tuned…

Tomorrow: Saying farewell to Duane Pillette, one of baseball’s best signers.