How ‘The Big Hurt’ Hurt The Hobby

Cooperstown should
honor this Thomas, too,
for always-precise
penmanship. Check out
the personal website
of the FIRST Frank Thomas

The OTHER Frank Thomas is trying.

Yea for speaking out against steroids in his Cooperstown induction speech.
What I’m still puzzling over is a career of abbreviated autographs. 
If he was catcher Cliff “C.J.” Johnson, it might not matter as much. Fans were sure this Frank Thomas could be a future Hall of Famer.
I remember an elderly collector telling me in the early 1990s about paying big bucks and standing in line at a hobby show for an “F– T –” autograph. He asked if that was his REAL autograph. Thomas threw in a silent grin for free. 
I loved the New York Times article earlier this year by Tyler Kepner about illegible autographs. I hope more people keep the conversation alive this year.’s Doug Ennis Was The Kid Who Never Forgot Kind Players

Visiting the outfield visage
of Billy Pierce in Chicago.
(Photo courtesy of Doug Ennis)

Do you like who you collect?

I love the reason Doug Ennis chose to become a White Sox fan and a team collector. Major Leaguers, take note. Meanwhile, thanks to Doug, who shares a fun, informative e-interview:

Q: Being a team collector, people want to know…does he live in Chicago area, past or present?

A: Believe it or not, but I have never lived in the Chicago area. I grew up in Southern California, fairly close to Anaheim. Starting at the age of 12 or so, I attended lots of Angels games (and few Dodgers games) with my father. After a while, he encouraged me to bring baseball cards to the games to try to get autographed during batting practice. I ended up having a passion for autographs, and I soon graduated to hanging out before and after games to get autographs as the players arrived and departed from the stadium.

That soon led to hanging out at team hotels, etc. During my first couple of years getting autographs, the White Sox players were by far the nicest to me, and I started rooting for them. Here it is approximately 21 years later, and I’m now a die-hard ChiSox fan and collector. All because they were nice to me when I was a kid. Particularly Frank Thomas, who is my favorite player to this day.

Q: What are the pros and cons of being a team collector if that city? (For instance, I could find you better deals on ChiSox stuff here in Iowa than what you’d find closer to Chicago.)

A: Since I don’t live in Chicago, I can’t really answer the question as intended. But I can say that being a White Sox fan in Florida isn’t a lot of fun. I don’t know of any other Sox fans in my area, so I have nobody to share my fandom with. The only benefit that came from living in Florida was being able to attend the playoff games against the Rays in 2008.

Q: First ever ChiSox autograph, in person or by mail?

A: My first ChiSox autograph also happened to be my first autograph, period. It was from third-string White Sox catcher Matt Merullo, some time during the 1991 season. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the actual experience. I recently wrote a letter to Merullo, and told him that he was my first autograph, and that the friendliness of Sox players such as himself is the reason I’m a die-hard fan to this day. He wrote me a really nice note, saying how cool it was that he was my first autograph.

Q: How long have you collected White Sox autographs? What have you learned in the journey?

A: As stated above, I’ve collected Sox autographs for approximately 21 years. It was about 5 years ago that I decided to streamline my collection and focus solely on the White Sox. Prior to that I collected everything, including all 4 major sports and also actors and musicians. Living in SoCal I had decent access to Hollywood. Eventually I learned that the Sox stuff brought me the most joy, and I could really expand my collection by focusing strictly on the Sox. It was a great decision for me, and my collection is MUCH better than it would have been had I continued collecting everything.

Q: I agree that Billy Pierce is a prince among White Sox signers. What former Pale Hosers have sent you extras TTM (bonus inscriptions, extras, even a note or letter)?

Custom by
Doug Ennis!

A: I have received extras in one form or another from Virgil Trucks, Matt Merullo, Billy Pierce, Jim Landis, and I’m sure a few others. The best extra I ever received was from Bob Shaw. One day I received a large manilla envelope with a return address for Mr. Shaw. Out of the blue he had sent me a Photofile 8×10, signed, personalized, and inscribed. He was already a favorite of mine, and this just showed why.
Q: What’s been your experiences graphing the White Sox in person, at either old Comiskey, the new ballpark or spring training?

A: Unfortunately, I have never graphed the Sox at their stadium in Chicago. Not unless you count autograph events like Picnic in the Park, or the former players that show up in the Scouts Seat lounge. I did go to Arizona last spring (2011) and spent 5 days graphing the Sox spring training site. I have to say, it was probably the best graphing experience of my life. With a few exceptions (Guillen, Cora, Vizquel, Buehrle, Rios), every player signed just about every day. Also, I had designed a panoramic showcasing what promised to be a great pitching staff (Buehrle, Danks, Floyd, Peavy, Jackson). Three of the pitchers were very complimentary of the piece, asking if they could have one for themselves.

Q: Have you sought TTM White Sox-related autographs of off-the-field names, people like organist Nancy Faust or Disco Demolition’s Mike Veeck? What do you ask the to sign? Have you made custom cards?

Custom By
Doug Ennis!

A: The only off field autographs I have obtained TTM are from Nancy Faust. She has signed several cards for me. She was in several of the Coke seats in the mid-late 80s. I also had her sign the US Cellular Field card in the 2010 Upper Deck set (for my all-time UD project), as she was the first person I thought of when I thought of the Sox home stadium. I would like to get groundskeeper Roger Bossard at some point, but I’m not sure what to have him sign. Maybe I will design a custom card.

Q: Specific future goals for autograph collecting?

A: My main project is to get every Upper Deck White Sox base card autographed. Upper Deck produced base sets from 1989 – 2010, totaling 529 Sox cards. I would say I’m about 75% of the way there.

Follow Doug’s progress on his website:

Coming Monday: My advice for breaking a TTM slump.

Baseball Sculptor Lou Cella Takes Few Bows

This striking Associated Press photo by Elaine Thompson
shows long-time broadcast partner Rick Rizzs congratulating
Marilyn Niehaus at the 2011 Safeco Field unveiling of the
statue of late husband Dave Niehaus. I like the picture for
what it DOES NOT show. The beard and patterned tie
in the photo’s upper right belong to sculptor Lou Cella.
The artist is a humble hero!

This Week in Baseball introduced me to sculptor Lou Cella.

Getting Cella and artistic co-creator Oscar Leon on camera was no easy feat. Seeing them both present for the Cellular Field installation of the Frank Thomas sculpture was a treat. Seeing the gratitude and admiration of “Big Hurt” made the feature even more meaningful.

The TWIB segment showed only a glimpse of Cella’s back. His White Sox jersey read Sculptor 35. Cella explained:

“The ’35 Sculptor’ jersey. Originally, the thought was that my sculpting partner Oscar Leon and I would both wear one of those to the unveiling of the Frank Thomas sculpture. I bought a game-used jersey at Sox Fest and had the lettering added later. But the idea lost steam when Oscar never had one made.

I felt like it would have been too self-serving and detract from both Frank Thomas and Oscar if I wore it by myself to the unveiling. So I wore it for the installation instead, and This Week in Baseball showed me in it. I was considering having a cubs version made for the Ron Santo piece, but I already have about 10 Cubs jerseys as it is. Maybe down the road.”

During the dedication of the Ron Santo statue, it seemed the Santo family posed for a picture holding a mini version of the statue. That made me wonder if Cella knows of collectible-sized baseball figurines.

Does he ever!

“I love both the Hartlands and the MacFarlane pieces. In my world, I make collectibles so much, that buying them is just not logistically feasible. In other words, I have no room. But I do admire them, and am always tempted to purchase them.”

Collectors may own a Cella creation without knowing. He adds…

“I have done numerous miniatures for Romito Inc. I do not know exactly how many off hand, but there are about a dozen large ones which have my name on them. You will see others on the site which I did not sign on, but likely helped a little or a lot with.

The full body of my monument level work is visible at”

Here’s an impressive New York Times roundup feature, surveying the variety of baseball statues outside ballparks. Of course, Cella’s included in this all-star lineup.

Coming for Thanksgiving: Thankful Bobby Winkles remembers his Arkansas childhood, complete with memories of George and Skeeter Kell.


Ballhawk Author Zack Hample Shares Secrets

Zack Hample snags more than baseballs. He caught up
with baseball commissioner Bud Selig (left) at an
after-party in Arizona’s Chase Field following
the 2011 All-Star Game.

(Photo Courtesy of Zack Hample)

I love the new book The Baseball by Zack Hample. Actually, it’s two great books in one. First, Hample creates a great history of the baseball, even reviewing TV episodes of shows like I Love Lucy or Sesame Street that include foul balls!

Then, for all you collectors, Hample shares all his secrets in how he’s amassed more than 5,000 baseballs. His book is a textbook for frustrated fans who’ve never snagged a souvenir. These aren’t just dogpile prizes of homers or foul balls in the author’s collection, however. Hample has perfected the psychology of baseball. If you’re on the field, this guy knows how to win you over. You will give this ballhawk a baseball.

Hample’s optimism and love of the game are beyond compare. His thoughtful game plan should inspire any fan or collector. I’m grateful that he put down his glove to answer some questions.

Q: All those baseballs. How many autographs?

A: I have 1,076 autographs on ticket stubs plus several hundred more on baseballs, cards, and photos. Most of the balls that I’ve gotten signed were NOT balls that I snagged at major league games. I’ve never really wanted to get those signed. Even at a young age, I felt that the balls should stay in their original condition and not be written on. I’ve broken my own rule by labeling some of my baseballs, but I write small and very neatly, so you almost can’t see my scribbles if you look fast.

Q: Did you ever write to players?

A: In the early to mid-1990s, I probably sent 50 to 100 letters to players, asking for autographs. The only thing I ever sent was ticket stubs. That’s just been my thing. I don’t write to players any more, however. I just don’t have time, and anyway, I think it’s more fun and rewarding to get autographs in person.

Q: You talk with players all the time. Do they talk autographs with you?

A: I’ve never discussed fan mail with a player, but it seems like most guys would rather not have to sign or deal with fans at all. That’s really a shame considering that without the fans, these guys would be nobodies. I’ve been to lots of games where just one or two players will sign before the game starts. That number should be more like 10 or 20, in my opinion, but that’ll never happen — not at the major league level.

Q: How do you dazzle a player at the ballpark when seeking signatures?

When I’m getting autographs, I don’t try to show off my knowledge at all. In recent years, I’ve enjoyed making small talk with the players while they’re signing, but lots of guys don’t even want to do that. The funniest exchange I had during an in-person encounter was with Frank Thomas. It was 2008. He was playing for the A’s. We were on the left field side at Camden Yards, and when it appeared that he might take off before I got him, I said, “Frank, if I don’t get your autograph, I’m gonna cry.” His response was simple: “Please don’t.” But that’s all it took to crack the ice, and he reached for my ticket soon after. Thomas was one of my all-time favorite players when I was growing up, and this was the first time I’d ever been close enough to talk to him, so I truly would’ve been bummed had I not gotten him.

Q: Through your national TV appearances through the years, you aren’t a mere fan any more. How do you feel about signing autographs at games?

A:  I love being asked to sign stuff. More than anything, I see it as a compliment, not to mention a good excuse to talk to the person who’s asking. After having been on the asking end of autographs for so many years, it’s nice to be able to be on the giving end, and to make people happy in the process. The only time I won’t sign is if I’m inside a major league stadium and there’s a chance for me to catch a baseball at that moment — but if the person asking me to sign is willing to wait a few minutes, I’ll always find time. I don’t think I’ve ever turned down an autograph request, and no matter how famous I might possibly get, I don’t think I ever will.

Q: How are you about fan mail?

A: I’ve actually done a lousy job in the last couple weeks, but that’s not because I don’t care. It’s just because I’ve been *so* busy attending games and trying to keep up with writing the entries that I simply haven’t had time to spend an additional 10 or 20 or 30 minutes answering comments. But I still read all the comments, and I hope to catch up on answering them…someday. In terms of where to send stuff to me, the best place to receive mail is at my family’s book store. The website is, and the address is right there on the home page. Just throw a “c/o Zack Hample” in there, and it’ll get to me. I’d also ask that people be patient in waiting for a response. It shouldn’t ever take me months to respond, but depending on my work/travel schedule, it could take a few weeks. If people want their items personalized, they should include a note with as many details and requests as possible. I mean, I’ll sign books differently for a five-year-old than I would for a 55-year-old, you know? So it’s good to know something about the recipient.

Q: You deserve to be on a baseball card. Has that happened yet?

A: Thanks! But yes, I have been on a baseball card. In fact, I’ve been on two, and they’re very rare. My dad made the first one for me in March 1982 when I was four and a half years old, and when I went to baseball camp in 1988, I received 100 of these. I’ve probably given away a dozen of them over the years, but only to relatives, best friends, and girlfriends. It would take some serious work for some random person out there to end up with one, but hey, anything’s possible.

Q: Your blog “Snagging Baseballs” is amazing, as is your website. Will you have time to write more baseball books in the future?

A: I have no clue. I’m officially taking a break this year from any serious writing. Beyond that, I haven’t made any plans, but if I had to guess, I’d say I’ll end up writing more books in the not-terribly-distant future.

Q: Any words of inspiration for autograph collectors?

A: You have to be dedicated if you want to amass a spectacular collection, not just with autographs, but with anything.

Frank ‘The Original’ Thomas (1951-66) Slugging For 4 Charities Via TTM Autograph Donations

Pittsburgh-born Frank Thomas, an underrated slugger from 1951-66, is quick to say that he’s been out of the game 46 years.

Don’t tell his mailbox.

He still gets 4-5 letters a day from autograph seekers. He asks for a $5 donation per autograph, giving all proceeds to four charities. Through his own humorously-named personal website, Thomas outlines his signing policy and his goodwill endeavors.

“My Dad told me to remember to be nice to people on the way up, because you’ll need them on the way back down.”

While attending a baseball-sponsored charity golf tournament in North Carolina, Thomas was forever changed. This led to his sponsorship of Courageous Kidz and Camp Happy Days.

“We were asked if any of us would go visit kids in the hospital battling cancer. Rick Dempsey and I said we’d be happy to.

We met a 17-year-old boy. He had just gotten back from Disney World. We asked him what he liked there. He said ‘GIRLS!’ He’s facing death, but he still can’t stop thinking about girls! He asked us to go see a little girl a few doors down. She was cutting out paper dolls. I asked if she’d like showing her Mommy all she had done.

The girl said, ‘My Mommy can’t come. She has to stay home with the other kids.’ That’s when my eyes filled with tears. I vowed I’d do all I could for kids like this.”

The father of four boys and four girls, Thomas is the father of a Father. One son has been a Priest for 14 years.

Thomas is a man of service. He remains active in the Catholic service organization Knights of Columbus, sharing some of the autograph donation proceeds with them. His fourth cause is Meals on Wheels.

Yes, Pittsburgh-area seniors get a meal each day delivered by a former All-Star. Thomas is a driver who’s been involved with Meals on Wheels for 30 years.

“Sometimes, the Meals on Wheels driver is the only person a senior sees all day,” Thomas noted.

Just as Thomas invests in these charities, he puts the same dedication into each collector donor.

“I know how much an autograph means to someone,” Thomas said.

The former Pirate has been including an extra autographed card whenever someone makes a donation. Additionally, he reads each letter himself, answering with additional notes when possible.

When someone mistakenly sends cards of the Frank “Big Hurt” Thomas (1990-2008), Thomas sends the cards back unsigned with a note suggesting they contact the contemporary F.T. in care of the White Sox or Athletics. “He has a foundation,” Thomas said. “I’ve suggested that people send a donation to him, too.”

Yes, the two same-named sluggers have met.

“I was at the 1994 All-Star game and got my picture taken with him,” Thomas said. “He signed for me, but you can’t read his signature.”
The mention of the second Frank Thomas stirred another memory, this tale spotlighting Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda. “I gave him his first glove,” Thomas recalled. “When I saw his signature, I asked him if he was proud of his family name. He said, ‘Sure.’ Then I said, ‘Well, sign it so I can read it then!’ He reminds me of that every time I see him.”

Thomas feels a special kinship with collectors. When a house fire destroyed his extensive baseball card collection, a story in Sports Collectors Digest inspired hobbyists to help Thomas rebuild his sets.

“I have replaced everything, down to 10 high-numbers from the 1952 Topps set,” he said. Thomas said he expected to finish his 2011 Topps Heritage set this week.

After years of lobbying the company, Thomas got included in this year’s set. “But only in the hobby edition!”

Despite loving the sets, and the idea of connecting the past with the present, Thomas still has worries for Topps.

“With the price of cards today,” he said, “I worry that kids are getting priced out of the hobby.”

Cards. Autographs. Steroids. Thomas isn’t shy about sharing his opinions. Only once, Thomas said, has a letter-writer criticized his signing methods. “The letter said I was just like current players,” Thomas fumed. A fiery reply explaining the charities noted that “if $5 will break you” that Thomas would make the donation for him.

“I wish I had done this a long time ago,” Thomas said. “I wish I had done this while I was playing. I could have helped so many people.”

Thomas welcomes autograph requests with donations of $5 per signature. Be prepared: he reads every line of every letter. His address:

Frank Thomas
118 Doray Drive
Pittsburgh, PA 15237

Coming Monday: A follow-up on the TTM autograph that took “only” 15 years.

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