Pitcher Jack Spring: Still a Gamer

Jack Spring is still in the game.

Thanks to collector Steve Smith of Fall River, Nova Scotia. He posted on the ever-handy www.sportscollectors.net that he had received two autographed cards from Jack Spring. Additionally, Mr. Spring provided a note saying why he couldn’t answer questions by mail.

It’s hard not to be a cynical collector these days. Upon seeing the posting by Steve, I thought of many reasons why Jack Spring was impatient with collectors.

Through sportscollectors.net, subscribers can send personal messages to collectors who’ve posted a success or failure. That meant I could find out the truth.

Steve forwarded the explanation that Mr. Spring is coping with Parkinson’s Disease, making writing answers difficult.

Nevertheless, the former pitcher isn’t letting autograph requests go unanswered completely. Even a signature may be getting difficult. That’s not stopping the stopper.

(One of Spring’s untold stories must surround June, 1964. Today’s sportswriters goof in claiming that the Cubs and Cardinals staged the swap of pitcher Ernie Broglio for Lou Brock. In a 6-player deal, the Cubs sent Spring and fellow moundsman Paul Toth to round out the deal.)

The moral? Appreciate every autograph. Treasure every extra. Some signers are taking extra efforts to give back to the game and its fans.

Ernie Broglio, Beyond Lou Brock

Ernie Broglio is more than just a trivia question. Today’s fans often hear, “Who did the Cubs get in return for future Hall of Famer Lou Brock?”

Finger-pointers seek scapegoats. The teams staged a three-for-three swap. Bobby Shantz and Doug Clemens accompanied Broglio to Wrigley Field on June 15, 1964.

Broglio had been traded before. He was part of a five-player deal in October, 1958. He wrote:

“The Giants traded me to St. Louis. I was really surprised because I had two really good years in the Giants minor leagues.”

Broglio notched consecutive 17-win seasons in 1957-58, first in Double-A then graduating to AAA the next year. He unveiled his full potential in Class C ball in 1955, winning 20 games.

As a Cardinal, Broglio enjoyed two years of glory. His 21 wins led the National League in 1960. The righty followed that with 18 victories in 1963. Surprisingly, the triumphs offset a career-worst 13 wild pitches. Broglio noted:

“I don’t believe there was that much difference between the two years, except in 1960, I either won 7 or 9 games in relief. The wild pitches were caused from a shoulder problem. I eventually took 16 or 18 (cortisone) shots in the shoulder.”

Before he left St. Louis, Broglio enjoyed a ringside seat for the evolution of Cardinals hurler Bob Gibson. When did Broglio know Gibby might be Cooperstown bound?

“There was never a doubt about him getting to the Hall of Fame. He had the instinct of getting you out from the time he started pitching.”

Broglio earned the attention of Sports Illustrated twice, first with a 1961 cover and later with this bittersweet 2000 article in which he reveals the inscription of his autographed photo from Lou Brock.

Ethan Blackaby: Milwaukee Braves Lured by Coca-Cola Advertising Dollars?

Ethan Blackaby’s brief tenure with the Milwaukee Braves taught him more than on-field skills.

The future general manager for the AAA Phoenix Firebirds (the talent factory for the San Francisco Giants) saw the ownership’s urge to relocate the Braves from Wisconsin.

He wrote:

“My first inkling was the winter of 1964. There was a rumor that Coke had offered the Braves a big advertising package if they moved to Atlanta. Braves accepted the deal and actually planned on moving in 1965, but N.L. vetoed the move. The Braves moved our Triple A team there for one season.”

Blackaby’s first at-bat came in 1962, hitting for Bob Uecker. He collected a pinch-double off Ernie Broglio. Kudos to the amazing Retrosheet website for preserving such memories, especially when the history makers have forgotten. Wrote Blackaby:

“Did I pinch-hit for Uecker? I can’t remember. Uecker is a funny man and I still see him in the winter. He lives here (in Arizona) in the winter.”

What does Blackaby cite as his front office accomplishments as a minor league exec?

“We had some good players, Chili Davis, Jack Clark. My greatest accomplishment was finishing in top-ten of minor league attendance for a period of about five years. I had a great staff.”

Blackaby belted 95 home runs in his minor league career. If he hadn’t been trapped in a power-laden Milwaukee outfield, Blackaby could have found time to shine.

Be sure to stop at the BR Bullpen. Baseball Reference offers a swell summation of Blackaby’s career, along with a classic minor league shot of the Phoenix GM.

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?