A Mantle & Maris Message For TTM?

Ebay is swimming with
memorabilia from the movie.
I’d love to correspond with
surviving actors, to see
how surprised they are
about this film’s revival.

Each baseball season begins and ends with cable channels having endless showings of Safe At Home.

No, this isn’t another snarky review of the movie. (Even though I thought Fred Mertz would have made a better coach than actor William Frawley was…)

Instead, I took to heart the message of stars Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.

While they told the boy that lying is wrong, I’d add, in the case of letter-writing collectors:

You don’t have to.

I’m thinking of collectors who’ve been tempted to concoct a tale that would melt the heart of the toughest non-signer.

(I remember the tale of a reporter (no, not me) who wanted to test how celebrities responded to letters from kids. He considered publishing a book. The problem was that Senator Edward Kennedy was so moved by this “kid” correspondent that his staff invited the non-existent child to Washington, D.C.

Instead, I see a better, more honest way.

Look at the list of guys you’re writing to. How do they relate to your own locale?

1. Do they (or did they) play near where you live? What about their minor league time?

2. Did they grow up (or retire) near you? Did they attend a nearby college?

I get frequent questions in replies from retirees about my Iowa town. Don’t leave money (or opportunity) on the table. It’s not just a business saying. Take full advantage of every chance you see. Your collection will thank you.

Coming Wednesday: Tune in for a tale of Bobby Thomson, CSI style.

Pinstripe Empire Author Knows The Hobby

Marty Appel is more than an author. He’s part of New York Yankees history.

Therefore, his masterful history of the team is a fascinating story within the story. As I devoured his new Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees From Before The Base to After the Boss (Bloomsbury, $28), I began to discover Appel’s deep roots in the Yankee mythology.

He’s restrained in not writing a “Me and Other Yankees” type book. Remember, coach Yogi Berra depended on Appel, a boy wonder team executive, for daily gossip about the team’s inner workings before each game.

Readers learn that Appel’s long career as the team’s public relations director meant more than paychecks. He tells of a young fan in 1965 who got a letter to the editor published in The Sporting News. “Why is everyone giving up on the Yankees? They always come through in the end. They will be fine.” Appel was that fan.

Appel salutes everyone in Yankees history. He unearthed a 1969 letter from a 1912 batboy (whose mother washed the team‘s uniforms). He writes admiringly of the unknown janitor who salvaged team files when new owners took over in the 1940s, done initially to save the autographs of famous names on endorsed checks.

Although Appel doesn’t write about collecting team memorabilia, he has lots of hobby-related tidbits in his text. He writes of the Yankee Stadium box seat design, noting that curved-back seats bought by collectors after the 1973 renovation dated back to 1946.

Think that’s great? Look for a two-paragraph tribute to Manny’s Baseball Land. If you bought a souvenir outside the ballpark into the 1970s, chances are it originated through Manny’s. On page 394, Appel notes just how cheap Yankee Stadium relics went for in the park’s renovation. Got five empty Winston packs and $5.75? A box seat is yours!

Collectors will love the author’s willingness to capture hobby lore. The reason Yankees fans know the faces of clubhouse man Pete Sheehy (who could forge autographs of Yankee stars when needed) and PA announcer Bob Sheppard was because Appel made sure the men were included in team photos and the yearbook.

He isn’t above raising an eyebrow about team icons. When Mickey Mantle couldn’t find his famed #7 jersey for Old-Timers Day, team exec Appel used some tape to alter Gene Michael’s #17. Appel recounts seeing coach Frank Crosetti climb into the Yankee Stadium stands before games, seeing that concessionaires return foul balls. And, on page 382, Appel tells which Yankees player on a winter caravan tour asks him where to buy good marijuana!

No detail is too small for Appel’s historic eye. He weaves decades together with invisible thread. Do you remember Seinfeld character George Costanza’s front office job with the Yankees? The job wasn’t as made-up as it sounded.Check out page 203. Appel knows who really held the low-level post from generations past.

Along with the yearly summaries of each season, the book tells of the demise of announcer Mel Allen. Appel shares that the announcer answered ALL of his fan mail.

When Babe Ruth visited Cooperstown for his 1939 Hall of Fame enshrinement, Appel resurrected the ideal quote from the legend besieged by signature seekers.

“I didn’t know there were so many people who didn’t have my autograph!”

Appel needed more than 600 pages to document all the wonders he was part of with the Yankees. This book is a noble start. He’s been a student of team history all his life. Read this finely-sculpted love letter to his Bronx Bombers, and you’ll be sure that all-star storyteller Appel is still a fan.

Coming Monday: Thanking a former Yankee on the comeback trail!

Author-illustrator Matt Tavares Creates A Winning Ted Williams Book For Kids

Matt Tavares (left) and Pedro Martinez, both signing autographs
at a Jimmy Fund fundraiser (Photo courtesy www.MattTavares.com)

Matt Tavares is bringing baseball history to a new generation.

The talented author-illustrator’s latest creation is There Goes Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived (Candlewick Press). I’m thankful to Matt, who agreed to share his own history as a fan and occasional collector.

Q: I love your book Zachary’s Ball. How were the Red Sox autographs collected in the book for the First Book fundraiser? Had you ever tried collecting autographs, in person or TTM, before?

(Image courtesy www.MattTavares.com)

A: During the 2004 season, Trot Nixon’s wife was involved with First Book, a great organization that provides books for children in low income families. I’m not sure if it was her idea or someone else’s, but I think she basically just asked Trot to pass the book around the clubhouse and have everybody sign it, so they could auction it off to raise money for First Book. I didn’t even know about it until after the book had been signed. Conveniently, the Red Sox went on to win the World Series that year, which made the book even more special. My publisher, Candlewick Press, is also involved with First Book, so they helped out with the auction. It sold for about $2000!

Yes, when I was a kid I was a huge baseball card collector. I always brought a baseball and/or baseball cards to Fenway when I went to Red Sox games, and got some autographs that way. I remember getting autographs from Mike Greenwell (my favorite Red Sox played back then), Jody Reed, Sam Horn, Jeff Reardon… I occasionally sent cards to players in the mail asking for signatures. I remember getting one back from Dave Parker, which was pretty exciting. My favorite autographed item is a baseball signed by the entire 1957 Red Sox team, including Ted Williams. My dad got that when he was in high school, and passed it on to me. I also have two signed Arthur Griffin photographs of Ted Williams, which are amazing.

Q: As an illustrator (but someone who might be asked to sign hundreds of in-person autographs at a bookstore or school visit) what were your thoughts of the legibility of Red Sox autographs?

A: It is nice when you can actually read the player’s name. Ted Williams had such a beautiful, classic signature (just like his swing!), as did Mickey Mantle. Pedro Martinez has a nice autograph too. I definitely have some autographs that I can’t even tell who it is. When I sign books I try to keep my name legible, but sometimes it gets a little scribbly. Every now and then I’m asked to sign a baseball, and that’s definitely harder than signing a piece of paper or a book!

Q: You mention your Dad in your Author’s Note for the great book, There Goes Ted Williams. What’s your fan history, including Boston games you attended (with him, and later)?

A: I grew up in Winchester MA, a suburb of Boston. My dad took me to a few Red Sox games a year when I was a kid. And of course, I watched tons of games on tv. I always brought my glove, and always wanted to catch a foul ball. In 1990, when I was a sophomore in high school, the Red Sox just needed to win one game in their final series against the White Sox to clinch the division, so my dad bought tickets to all three games, figuring we’d keep going until they clinched. They lost the first game, lost the second game, and finally won it in the final game of the season. That was the game Tom Brunansky made that amazing diving catch near Pesky’s pole to end it. I was sitting in right field in section 7, row 11 (I thought that was good luck). That was one fun and exhausting week! I’ve been to some other big games… the 1999 Red Sox-Yankees ALCS game 3, Clemens vs. Pedro, as well as games 4 and 5 in the ALDS against the Indians that year. Lots of great Fenway memories over the years…

These days, living in southern Maine, I go to more Portland Sea Dogs games than Red Sox games. Portland is the AA affiliate of the Red Sox, so it’s fun to follow the Sea Dogs, then when the players get called up to the majors I already know them.

Q: I know that Cal Ripken Jr. and the late Gary Carter have championed children’s books, encouraging more kids to read. Are there past or present baseball names who’ve communicated with you?:

A: My baseball books have been used by The Massachusetts Teachers Association a few times for their Red Sox Reading program. Through that, I’ve gotten to meet Trot Nixon, Derek Lowe, and Jason Varitek, who were all involved with the program over the years. Recently I signed books at a Jimmy Fund fundraiser where Pedro Martinez was signing, so I got to meet him. I was so excited, I felt like a little kid

Q: For either your Henry Aaron or Ted Williams books, did you correspond with any baseball names (teammates, foes, media, etc.) for your research?

A: Most of my research for those books came from reading other books and old newspapers. For the most part, I wasn’t digging up new information about Henry Aaron and Ted Williams. I was just presenting the information in a new way, in a picture book for kids. My publisher did contact Henry Aaron early in the project to get his blessing. And we did get a letter from someone in the Braves organization saying that Mr. Aaron read the book and really enjoyed it, along with a copy of Henry Aaron’s Dream signed by Henry Aaron. It’s definitely one of my prized possessions.

Q: Future baseball books?

A: Right now I’m working on a picture book biography of Babe Ruth’s early years, tentatively titled Becoming Babe Ruth, due out in Spring 2013, published by Candlewick Press.

I’m grateful to Matt for postponing deadlines to share his own baseball biography. If you want to share the love of the game with young people, start with his books. Like him on Facebook to be eligible for monthly prizes. He gives away an autographed book. For the Aaron book, he added an original sketch of the slugger with his autograph. See it, and learn more at www.matttavares.com

Coming Monday: How to help a former player in need.

Catching Up With Yankee Bruce Robinson

A grateful, talented Yankees fan wished Bruce a
happy birthday (April 16) in a
2011 post on www.myyesnetwork.com forum.
Check out Bruce’s website below for
more rare Yankees photos!

Because he wore The Pinstripes, right?

That wasn’t the main reason I was interested in Bruce Robinson. Once I went to www.BruceRobinsonMusic.com, I saw a man who was living his dream A SECOND TIME!

Sure, he was Oakland’s first-round draft pick, He made the majors. However, he didn’t let his dreams die in the 1980s.

Bruce has hit the road with his guitar (and a ukulele?!?), singing his own songs. He has a debut CD available on his website. I hope you’ll check it out. He’ll autograph any copy you order!

I’m grateful that the catcher-turned-singer/songwriter took time to share some impressive memories. Here’s our conversation:

Q: I’ll start not with a question, but with thanks. You’ve signed autographs for years. We appreciate your kindness to fans.

A: Your are most welcome. It is always an honor and a privilege to sign my name as a former major leaguer!

Q: You were a first-round draft pick?

A: Yes, 21st pick in the 1975 June free agent draft, the 11th edition of the draft. I was the 1st position player from San Diego drafted in the first round since the inception of the draft. Two others, both pitchers, Steve Dunning (like me a high schooler who was a first round pick out of Stanford University) and Brien Bickerton.

Q: We see ESPN coverage of the NFL draft, which MLB has tried to match. Your thoughts?

A: Hard to do that in baseball because of the typical development time that is required to prepare a college or especially a high school player to  be able to play in the major leagues. With basketball and football, it is very different as college players make immediate impacts in their sports. Also basketball and football severely restrict the number of rounds of the draft. Following a half dozen or so rounds, the remaining players are free agents. In baseball, often there are over 50 rounds of selections.

Q: How much excitement and ceremony was in your selection and actual signing as a first-rounder?

A: Not much, mostly just within the circle of friends family and teammates. That being said, being a first round selection is something that is a lifetime feather in one’s cap, much like a degree from Stanford, or playing in the major leagues. You are aware that only 5 percent of players that sign a professional contract actually end up in the major leagues, even if for only one day. I believe the statistic for 1st round choices is about 50 percent. 

Q: During your playing career, who were some other players you found with real musical ability?

A: When I was playing, I didn’t know of any on my teams. Tim Flannery and Eric Show played guitar in the Padres organization. Show was an exceptional jazz musician. Flannery has nowhere near that kind of ability but he has done exceptionally well with his Jimmy Buffett style cover band and a few originals.

Q: And who knew about your aspirations in those years?

A: Guys I still communicate with remember me toting a guitar everywhere, but my aspirations were more geared toward pure enjoyment of playing other people’s music. Bernie Williams is a very nice jazz guitar player and I would imagine there are hundreds of others.

Q: The Robby Pad, your invention, is genius!

A: Thank you.

Q: When did the idea first come, and how long did it take to get from paper to finished product?

A: I came up with the idea in 1980 while playing with Columbus, AAA affiliate for the New York Yankees. Wilson Sporting Goods expressed considerable interest in the product and I have letters to back that up. They took photos and wanted to work with me, until they found out my patent search proved The Robby Pad was not patentable. (Sees there was some hinged product in the late 1800s, not even related to baseball, and that precluded my being awarded a patent).

When Wilson learned of that, they discontinued communication and stole the idea, saying (when I sued them), they had developed the idea first and were under no obligation to tell me that when they were wooing me and my Robby Pad.

Q: Was it hard to get listened to by companies, being “just” a player? 

A: A good idea, just like a good player, will be found and developed.

Q:  I’ve seen you on two Topps cards. Cool! What did you think of the cards then — and how do you feel today?

 A: It was exciting to have my photo take for a Topps bubble gum card. They gave you a $5.00 check and still do today, I believe. I also signed with Louisville Slugger (I got a set of gold clubs with a pro style golf bag with my name emblazoned upon it) and with Wilson for gloves (three gloves per season).

Q: Your website is amazing, showing both of your careers. You’ve posted some great baseball pictures, too. The shot of you beside Mantle is awesome, two Yankees in uniform. What was a conversation like with The Mick?

A: That day we were talking about bunting, both sacrifice and drag. He never bunted from the right side, only left-handed and always drag bunted, taking the ball with him to the right of the pitcher (1st base side of the diamond).

He was very approachable, but was only around for a couple weeks during spring training.

(Thanks again to talented collector and steadfast blog supporter Kohei Nirengi for his suggestion for this feature!)

Coming Friday:Bruce Robinson, part 2… Coaching minor leaguers Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire in 1984!

Birthday For A Baseball Blogger

“Clear the dining room table?
Why? For cake? For me?!?”

Old age creeps up on me.

Today, 10/20, is the birthday of Mickey Mantle and one “Baseball By The Letters” blogger.

In my delight over the Lon Simmons letter (and anticipation of cake…) I leaked the first part of Lon’s revealing comments.

I wanted to interrupt this newscast for a suggestion:

Print out this column and leave it for any potential gift givers:


1. Postage stamps
2. Membership to www.sportscollectors.net
3. The Harvey Meiselman Baseball Address List, available at www.sportsaddresslists.com

Good luck, hint droppers!

Truly coming Friday: Lon Simmons Remembers Russ Hodges

%d bloggers like this: