Frank ‘The Original One’ Thomas Still Signing TTM Autographs at Age 91

Frank Thomas 1954 Bowman
Bowman seemed to use the player contract signature of Frank Thomas in 1954, as hinted by the middle initial inclusion. More than 60 years later, Thomas maintains that same proud penmanship!

While we’re waiting for Major League Baseball to resume, let it be known that Baseball By the Letters is back!

First of all, here’s an update from “The Original One.” Yes, THAT Frank Thomas. The three-time All-Star, now age 91, briefed me with a fun weekend phone conversation.

Through-the-mail autograph collectors haven’t forgotten Thomas. “I’m getting 6 to 10 letters a day,” he said. Thomas said that nearly every autograph request comes with his requested $5 donation. “I think I’m getting third- and fourth generation requests. I signed for kids who became parents. Their kids write me, too. It’s like a continuing cycle.”

Thomas uses autograph donations to support two charities benefiting kids with cancer. Famed Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly encountered Thomas at a golf tournament in the 1990s. He invited Thomas to go with him on a hospital visit to a kids’ cancer ward. Since then, Thomas has kept up a correspondence with young cancer survivors he’s met. Of course, letters from young patients who’ve become healthy adults give Thomas tons of satisfaction.

Anyone enclosing an extra card for Thomas in an autograph request letter should be pleased to know that Thomas shares autograph cards at hospital visits with any young patient who wants one.

Collectors who listen to sports radio have found Thomas as a guest throughout the years. His insights about baseball make him sound like he’s ready to take the field for the 2020 season.

If there is a season, “It scares me,” Thomas said. “What if one player gets the virus? Then, there goes the whole team. Owners are trying to keep TV revenue for this year. However, I don’t think players will be eager to take the risk.”

Concerning lost player wages, Thomas added: “I’d always have my salary spread over the whole year. That way, I’d have something to feed the kids with.”

Since the start of his career in 1951, Thomas always considered autographs part of his job. “I never went to movies on the road,” he said. “I always thought movies would hurt my eyes. So, I brought bags of fan mail with me.”

That same attitude translated to in-person signings, too. “My wife sat in the car with all the kids for two hours after home games at Forbes Field,” Thomas (father of eight) remembered. “They knew that I pledged to sign an autograph for anyone who asked (as long as everyone lined up). I’d stay at the ballpark until the last fan who asked got his autograph.”

These days, Thomas sells autographed photos to help his charities, too. For $10, Thomas offers a photo of himself with 18 ex-Pirates, or a picture of the Sports Illustrated cover that made him the first-ever Pirate to appear on the magazine.

For $12, Thomas will sign and send a photo showing all of his baseball cards through the years. The rarest photo he offers is a “back to back to back to back” shot from 1961. On June 8, 1961, Cincinnati Reds pitchers gave up four consecutive homers to four Milwaukee Braves: Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Joe Adcock, then Thomas. The autographed version costs $22.

To get an autograph, send your donation and a SASE to Frank Thomas, 4202 Lenox Oval, Pittsburgh, PA 15237-1659.

Bill Kearns Collects Maine-ly Players

“The Original One” is a
unique subset in Bill’s collection!
Bill Kearns is a great online ally. He provides early-breaking news on deaths for the Baseball Player Passings site on Facebook. He’s mentioned which deceased players signed for him. I wanted to know more about his unique hobby background. I’m grateful he’s provided this e-interview.
Q: Do you remember who (and when) your first TTM autograph came?
A: Yes it was George Bamberger. He has since died, so he gets added to that list.
We started this hobby about 11 years ago and we had about 50 baseball cards to our name. That card of Mr. Bamberger was given to us by a friend (along with about 70,000 others) and we have still beeen feeding from that large collection ever sense. But it recent years we have graduated to making photos (those that you see in BP are actually a 4×6 photo, made to make like a baseball card.)
Q: Tell me about the Maine players collection, please!
Great set…Maine certainly is not a hotbed for baseball stars but we seek them out. There are 19 living ML’ers from Maine and we have them all. The saddest is of Dan Walters, as we learned, became a San Diego police detective and was shot an paralyzed while off duty, told to us by his mother who gave us a signed card. Tought way to learn of such a tragedy.
We have many minor leaguers too. They are harder to find but keep searching

Q: What’s a typical letter like for you? Typed or handwritten? What do you ask to get signed? Ever ask specific questions?
A: We do so many its a standard letter, with areas to change player info, both signed by us. Son Jon will write occasional on the “real important ones” and used to write many as part of his “homework” as a youngster.

 Q: What kind of notes or letters have you gotten back?
A: We get lots of notes and letters back. We keep all of them. It kinda authenticates them. We have a pen pal Frank “The Original One” Thomas and we must have 300 multi page letters from him

Q: I saw the breaking news about Pascual Perez. Some collectors might ask, why pay attention to obituaries? It’s too late for an autograph!
A: Yes, put its good to know and often will brink back memories and perhaps that is baseball’s best quality. LIke when I read that Bob “Hawk” Taylor died this past June, I had to go for a long walk. He was my 1st baseball hero, I was about 6-7…and yah, it hurt.

Q: What advice do you have for setting hobby goals or collection types?
A: I tell all younger collectors that I know and have known, have fun, go with players that inspire you but try to do the hobby in “set” or “subsets”. For example, if you like the Red Sox, have a set of Red Sox that you can continue to work on. Like the Maine born players, players born your birthday, players that share your name, school or even subsets of players that achived a rare event…like home run 1st at bat, or even better, player 1st pitch home run…it brings in the reserch realm.

Q: How are you keeping up on addresses and other autograph news?
Many sources, addy books, on line ask friends ask players

Q: Guys who scribble their “names.” Guys who charge, or never respond. Lots of people have lists of what’s wrong with this hobby. What’s RIGHT about this hobby right now?
A: It is fun and challenging. We do alot of the older players because, they are better signers. And it brings the history factor. We go to alot of Portland SeaDogs games and hound the RedSox prospects and the in-coming teams. This past summer we got about 1,000 autographs of the SD’s (overkill) not at all because we “gift” many of them to friends in the hobby instead of trading.

Q: What’s your hobby game plan for 2013?
A: Love the old guys love the Sea Dogs…adding more autographs to sons and friends “baseball scrapbooks”. Imagine a scrapbook of autographs chalk full of players that share your name, birthday, Maine born and much more….

Coming Monday: News from Virgil Trucks

Pirate Frank Thomas Ponders Messy Autographs

Talking with Frank “The Original One, 1951-66” Thomas, I marveled at his passion as a fan and collector. Look at his website to see all the sets he appeared in.

I first wrote about Frank May 6, telling about the causes he supports through autograph signing. The two charities supporting young cancer patients are in Charleston, South Carolina, he spotted. E on the blogger, says the official scorer.

Frank’s biggest revelation escaped me in the original post. He mentioned the messy or abbreviated signatures of stars like Frank “Big Hurt” Thomas.

“I don’t know what it is with some guys and their autographs,” he speculated. “Are they afraid of identity theft or something?”

I loved this answer. This big-hearted Pirates star can’t fathom scribbling for collectors. Do players want to conceal and disguise their signed identities? I could hear in his voice that he believes hobbyists deserve signatures showing every letter, first and last name. A fear of crime was the only possible explanation Frank the First could muster to explain half-hearted autographs.

Coming Monday: The day Jim Bouton “went to bat” for Tom Shopay.

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