Your letter in the Baseball Hall of Fame? It’s possible!

Don Sutton has another unique tie to the Hall of Fame, this one being hand-written! (Photo credit: Adam Fagen/Wikimedia Commons)
Don Sutton has another unique tie to the Hall of Fame, this one being hand-written! (Photo credit: Adam Fagen/Wikimedia Commons)

A collector, part of Cooperstown? 

That’s one fascinating possibility lurking within the correspondence collection kept by the National Baseball Hall of Fame research library. The 25-page list produces many surprises, none of which may be on public display.

Everyone knows that Hall of Famer Don Sutton has been a reluctant by-mail signer for years. Well, the HOF owns a hand-written letter from the pitcher, offering advice to a young player in 1966. An article from the period documents the exchange.

Players like Jackie Robinson saved letters of support from fans. Browsing the list, I found one fan wrote Robinson six times from 1952-55.

Sure, the archive includes lots of business letters: owners, commissioners, journalists. 

However, none of those official missives would match a single hand-written bit of correspondence between players and fans.

That’s the joy of Baseball By The Letters.

 

http://s3.amazonaws.com/finding-aids/BA+MSS+44+Correspondence+Collection.pdf

Letters and more: the best Jackie Robinson collection ever?

Rachel Robinson is shown accepting the Congressional Medal of Honor for her husband in 2005. (Photo credit: Eric Draper, Wikimedia Commons)
Rachel Robinson is shown accepting the Congressional Medal of Honor for her husband in 2005. (Photo credit: Eric Draper, Wikimedia Commons)

Except, it’s not for sale. Never will be, either.

The Jackie Robinson Papers were donated to the Library of Congress by Rachel Robinson in 2001. 

More than 7,000 items make up this collection. Most importantly, correspondence makes up a healthy part of the collection. Fan mail from around the world. 

Jackie’s own editing on the manuscripts for his two biographies.

Who knows? Some player’s wife might be collecting the letters you send, too!

Don’t forget to ask about spring training

City_Island_Field_Daytona_Beach,_Florida
This is where Jackie Robinson made his spring training debut in 1946.

Collectors and fans ask often:

What do I write former players about? What should I ask?

Simple. Spring training!

Short major league careers might hide the fact that someone was a one-year wonder in the Grapefruit or Cactus League. After all, they had to do something great to get their shot at the bigs.

What are their best spring training memories? What was their best pre-season day ever?

Asking is free. Be prepared to be amazed.

Who knows you are writing to former players?

ostenmuellerWe visited with an 86-year-old friend this morning.

When we mentioned visiting Quincy, Illinois, she lit up. “I attended the Quincy Beauty Academy years ago!”

She told about rooming with the family of Fred Ostermueller. “He played for the Pirates!”

His career stretched from 1934-48, with more than 100 major league wins. Born in Quincy, Fred died there in 1957. My friend’s story checks out.

Decades after his death, Ostermueller made headlines (unwanted ones) when the movie 42 was released. His offspring went national claiming that dad was misrepresented in the movie, and that he was nothing like that racist character who beaned Jackie in the head. In reality, the movie had several errors. Robinson was hit in the wrist. Bruce Markusen did lots of valiant journalistic digging, trying to find any surviving facts beneath the lore. 

So, what does this story have to do with collecting autographs or baseball research?

1. Friends, even relatives, won’t be able to help you if they don’t know what your goals are. “Do you know of any current or former major league baseball players?” Then, tell them why you want to know.

2. Success is out there, maybe closer than you ever imagined.

Red Danny Litwhiler’s Legacy: Go Beyond Stats

I missed out on writing to Danny Litwhiler, who held the distinction of being the oldest Cincinnati Red until his recent death at age 95.

His statistics aren’t overwhelming. Although anyone with more than 100 career homers isn’t a slouch.

His obituary told the untold story about Litwhiler. The outfielder posed for a picture with Jackie Robinson when the Dodgers visited Cincinnati in 1948. The gesture helped quell racial tensions.

Litwhiler’s questionable knee kept him out of the military until 1945. Nevertheless, he found a way to serve the war effort.

He molded future careers for Rick Miller, Kirk Gibson and Steve Garvey as a college coach. During his collegiate career, Litwhiler pushed for innovations like radar guns and Diamond Grit to keep wet fields playable.

In 2000, he teamed with talented author and historian Jim Sargent to write Danny Litwhiler: Living The Baseball Dream.

Phillies fan Stan Price was one of the lucky ones who tracked down Litwhiler before the veteran’s health (and signing) went downhill beginning in 2009. You can tell tons about Litwhiler’s work ethic and love of the game from the photo — which Stan turned into an amazing custom card.

There are still Danny Litwhiler-ish men from baseball’s past out there. Do your homework, and you’ll find men whose biggest victories never fit into a box score.

Coming Thursday: Awesome insights from Twins outfielder Steve Brye.

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