Duane Pillette Leaves the Field At Age 88

Reason to Smile!

Ask a good question, get a GREAT answer.

Duane Pillette proved that possibility with a jaw-dropping 2010 response.

The fiery pitcher and son of a Major Leaguer (pitcher Herman Pillette) died last week at age 88. Duane signed until then end. One collector posted on http://www.sportscollectors.net/ that he received his autograph after reading the obituary.

I wrote about Pillette twice, first sharing my letter, then showing how he tried to restore a bit of civility to autographing.

The clock is ticking. Write to these witnesses to baseball history. They may want to pass the torch to YOU.

Pitcher Duane Pillette Asks The Hobby

Luckily, Mr. Pillette keeps smiling and signing.

“Hey ____________,

Enclosed is a card and index card, pick up a sharpie and sign them”

Would anyone really send a note like that to a former player? Pitcher Duane Pillette, first profiled on the blog back April 15 and April 16, shared this with a collector.

The hobbyist posted his stunning exchange with Pillette on the ever-amazing http://www.sportscollectors.net/ forum.

Pillette returned the collector’s 1952 Topps card signed. However, unsure whether the hand-written demand came from the real collector and SCN subscriber, Pillette added:

” I’m not really sure who sent me this card. I’m a little surprised that in high school you couldn’t find a better piece of paper and maybe next time you send a card to anyone make it sound like a pleasure and not like a job!”

In the past week, SCN subscribers have been rallying to send apology letters to Pillette, who has 142 recorded TTM responses on the website.

The hobby needs our help. The quality of letters you send matter. A thank-you note could convince a willing signer not to stop answering fan mail. Other retirees may start charging, not out of financial need, but from the urge to deter requests by way of a cash penalty. If the ex-player believes that letter writers aren’t sincere, why not scare them away with a fee?

A standing ovation goes to collector Richard Jones. After sharing the letter, he wrote me:

“I was just so upset about this incident. I love collecting autographs. Its a great and fun hobby but people like the author of that horrible letter is what is causing “our” hobby to be more challenging.”

I see a couple of messages in this shocking episode. First, don’t just say “too bad,” shrug and go on collecting. Speak up. Silence and inaction only make a problem grow.

Most of all, Duane Pillette’s challenge tells us to make every letter count. It’s not just for yourself, but for tomorrow’s collectors, too.


Duane Pillette’s Major League Father


Pitcher Duane Pillette didn’t have the usual roadblocks up-and-coming hurlers face. Pillette’s first obstacle was his father, major league veteran Herman Pillette.

Fans might think a father with big league experience (a 19-game winner with the 1922 Tigers!) would be the golden ticket to the majors, the perfect parental coach.

“There’s is no doubt that you love the game of baseball–and do I,” Pillette began. “My father was always my hero and I wanted to be just like him. I knew that was impossible, but I swore to myself I would make the majors, although it was against his wishes.

“You see, my dad was a farm boy and he had very little education. Therefore, he seldom made money playing ball. He wanted me to get an education and not always worry about money. He even refused to show me anything about pitching. But I said, ‘Dad, you can’t pay my way to college, so how else can I get that education? I must be good enough to receive a scholarship.’

“He gave in, but said, ‘Okay, you must earn it on your own.’

“I did get that education, and one of the best in the country. Santa Clara, it was a Jesuit (we are Catholic) University, and they are tough. I knew if I could make the grade there, I could make it to the majors.

“But it wasn’t easy, because I received a letter saying I was to join the service. I spent three years, and it made me be tough enough to do anything.

“Sorry, I got carried away. But remember, if you want something bad enough, go get it.

“No, he never saw me pitch, but he read about me, first high school, then college and finally the majors. I wasn’t great, but I stayed eight years, and that made my goal.

“Yes, he was proud of me.

“Remember, whatever you do, do it the best you can and you will be happy.

Sincerely,
Duane Pillete”

Pitcher Duane Pillette’s Field of Dreams


Duane Pillette is an eternal all-star. Forget the statistics. I’m talking about a baseball evangelist, someone unmatched at spreading love for the game.

Pillette responded with a 2-1/2 page response to questions about his career.
His insightful, inspirational letter is worthy of Hall of Fame enshrinement.

First of all, Pillette offered a perspective of his time with the St. Louis
Browns not heard from many Brownies. How did it feel to go from 1953 Brown
to a charter member of the Baltimore Orioles?

“Tom: The St. Louis Browns became the Baltimore Orioles. They were really the same team. But St. Louis’ park was used by the Cardinals, also, and the infield was dirt, not grass.

Baltimore had grass, and I was a ground-ball pitcher. So in 1954, my only year with them, I made the All-Star team.”

For fans, Baltimore was Memorial Stadium.

For Pillette, Memorable Stadium!

Tomorrow, discover Pillete’s inspiring story of his major league father.

Cheers for a Father-Son Hobby Team


One of my favorite hobby stops is the Autograph Addict.

This site is the collaboration of father-and-son collectors Kyle and Tyler Smego. You might spot them at Camden Yards as many as 30 games a year.

Through the mail, they’re collecting memories.

In January, the Smegos posted 40 questionnaire responses, saying they had a couple hundred more. What’s the current count?

“I try to get these online as quickly as I receive them, but it’s hard to keep up,” Kyle said. “I still have, at least, a couple hundred more that are waiting to be posted. It seems like we get around 10-15 back every month though. In the past we have tried to send the same questionnaire out to all the players (Tyler made up the questions. We try to keep it questions that the players can quickly jot down an answer.”

These “autograph addicts” are gleaning great insights from baseball history makers. Pitching coach Ray Rippelmeyer talked about teaching Steve Carlton the slider. We all know how that experiment turned out.

“Ray was one of the longest letters we have received, but not the longest,” Kyle said. “We have received many responses where the player filled out our questionnaire and wrote a letter. Some of the longer responses include: Rippelmeyer, Duane Pillette, Bobby Shantz, Jake Gibbs, Ernie Broglio, Don Ferrarese, etc….even Phil Niekro and Tony Kubek. All of those guys wrote a page or two or three.”

The Smegos’ best-ever response?

“Our longest correspondence however has been with Ken Retzer,” Kyle said. “I saw that you blogged about him this week. He really is a great guy. He likes to tell stories about his playing days with the Senators, catching JFK, his family, and his business ventures. Over the past year he has sent several letters and included some neat items each time. One time he sent a copy of an old menu from his diner that he used to own (Home Plate), a couple of pictures of his family, some additional pictures of him with JFK, copies of all his baseball cards, etc. He plans on coming out to the DC area sometime soon and I look forward to taking him out to dinner.”

Kyle and Tyler are making the hobby their own. They’ve asked for suggestions for other fun questions they can be asking. Ask someone about what they think of when they see the photo on a certain baseball card.

More than 30 years ago, Twins infielder rolled his eyes and grinned while signing his SSPC “Pure” card. I asked him if he liked that card.

“I think they took photos on the hottest day of spring training right after wind sprints,” I seem to remember Terrell saying. “Look at how sweaty we look. Look at the other Twins cards, and you’ll see what I mean.”

What fun questions do you ask when you write a former player?

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