Yankee Lefty Gomez Stars In New Book

Although he’s been gone more than 20 years, Yankees Hall of Fame pitcher Vernona “Lefty” Gomez may be baseball’s literary Rookie of the Year this season.

Credit daughter Vernona Gomez and Lawrence Goldstone for co-authoring Lefty: An American Odyssey (Ballatine Books, $28).
This title could be called an overdue biography. In 1978, author James Michener first offered to write Lefty’s life story. Schedule conflicts scuttled the partnership. However, Lefty’s daughter volunteered to take over the project.

The book is fascinating on so many fronts. First of all, equal time is devoted to Lefty’s wife, Broadway star June O’Dea. Their marriage lasted just shy of 56 years.

Continuing that theme, the book gives great insights to the Yankee wives who were friends of Mrs. Gomez. Rarely are players of that era shown as off-field people. The couple may have been the first to hear from Joe DiMaggio (a Lefty roommate years earlier) that he planned to re-marry Marilyn Monroe.

For collectors, this book has more than a half-dozen remarkable autograph anecdotes.

Joe McCarthy used autographs to monitor a player curfew during road trips, Gomez later shared.

“Joe gave a baseball to the elevator operator in the team hotel. As the guy took a player up to his room, he asked the player to autograph the ball. When the clock struck twelve, he collected no more signatures. We all knew what Joe was doing but we still had to get our signatures on that baseball.”
After the manager checked for missing autographs (of AWOL Yankees), he’d allow the hotel employee to keep the baseball.

For the 1933 wedding of Gomez and O’Dea, the priest told Lefty that all the altar boys wanted to be in the celebrity service. Only two were needed. When Lefty offered to give autographed team baseballs to the other boys, all the kids decided they’d rather have the souvenir than be in the ceremony!

Gomez was a regular at Hall of Fame weekend induction ceremonies at Cooperstown, signing autographs for one and all. Once, he offered his own view of autographing:

“How do you know your career is over? The fans don’t give you a clean ball to autograph. Instead, they offer you one filled with other autographs and say, ‘See if you can squeeze your name on it somewhere.’”

Before Joe Garagiola and Bob Uecker, baseball’s resident wit wore Yankee pinstripes.

Remarkably, the Hall of Famer’s daughter offers a journalist portrait of her dad, far removed from his famed one-liners. One chapter details his infidelity and a near-divorce. Another looks at the alcoholism that resulted from a grueling post-baseball schedule as a Wilson Sporting Goods nation-wide representative.

Ultimately, Lefty shows a joyous, grateful man who dedicated his life to the sport he loved. Put the pitcher on your reading schedule.

Coming Monday: Author Vernona Gomez talks “Lefty” and autographs.

Yankees Author Hart ‘Juju Rules’ Seely Tallks Phil Rizzuto, Autographs & Best T-shirts Ever!


Hart Seely is one unique Yankees fan.

Lots of us may think or feel that way about our favorite team (or the OTHER guys). We may have said it aloud over a beer. Or, we may have said it louder at a game. However, he’s the one who put it all in writing and added his name to it.

As evidenced by last week’s blog, I loved his book The Juju Rules* Or, How to Win Ballgames From Your Couch: A Memoir of a Fan Obsessed. I’m grateful to this pinstriped wit for sharing an update on his Yankees lifestyle in this feisty, fun e-interview:

Q: Loved Juju Rules! It’s a fun confessional. However, I was surprised that you didn’t ‘fess up to having a Yankees COLLECTION. What kind of memorabilia has tempted you? I can’t imagine any “fan obsessed” not being some level of collector!

A: I don’t consider myself a true collector, in the Aristotelian sense of the word. A collector collects. I amass.

I have about a ton of Yankee stuff – I mean debris, detritus, crapola! But I cannot bring myself to catalogue it or bring order unto its chaos. We’re talking piles, haystacks, mounds. Someday, after I’m dust, some reality TV picker show will have a field day going through my office. They’ll need a backhoe.

I have one autographed ball from Rizzuto and one from Joe Torre, which Alphonso – a main character in the book, as you know – somehow wrangled; he gave it to me last Christmas. I have manila envelopes stuffed with autographed pictures and postcards from the Scooter, who always included signed glossies when we exchanged letters (a couple of which are framed.) I’ve got old Yankee programs, picked up at garage sales. In fact, they hover over my desk right now, threatening to topple onto the keyboard where I am typing. Yankee things come my way, and even though I consider myself a misery bastard when it comes to keeping memorabilia, I don’t throw out Yankee stuff.

Also, I have about 15 Yankee t-shirts, including one that promotes “Typhoon Irabu” and another that says, “I BRAKE FOR YOUKILIS BEANINGS.” (By the way, he recently attained his 15th HBP at the hands of Yankee hurlers; if he stays healthy, I think he could reach 20.)

I believe that our generation’s greatest contributions to history will be the Internet, domed sports stadiums and our t-shirt collections.

Q: In the book, we don’t know if you actually got autographs from Rod Scurry or Clete Boyer. Please, can you share an example of getting any Yankee signatures in person or through the mail?

A: I didn’t get either. Scurry was, realistically, out of pen range. But I’ll forever kick myself for not hanging in there and getting Clete’s. Here’s a post-script to the story in my book about meeting Clete Boyer with my two sons on a hot midway kiosk at the New York State Fair:

He was selling autographs, and I was ready to buy one. There was nobody standing behind us. Clete seemed to be really grateful that I was there, and we were having a great little chat. But this young guy hovering over him – punker hair, looking bored and cynical – barked at me, “If you’re not going to buy an autograph, please move on.” I was so stung that – well – I just moved on. Clete looked sad, too. He was going to just sit there and watch people pass. I left him sitting there. I’ve regretted it ever since.

As for getting autographs, here’s my secret: Write a book about a guy, and he showers you with autographs. How Alphonso managed to get Torre’s name on a ball is between him and God.

Q: Speaking of fan mail, have you details of any current or former Yankees who read Juju Rules?
A: No. As far as I know, it hasn’t sunken in yet. I feel like the guy running that radio signal tower in Peru – or maybe it’s Arizona – shooting messages off into deep space. I still haven’t heard a response from Alpha Centari.

Actually, I’m not sure if today’s ballplayers will understand or appreciate my book. It takes somebody special, like Tony LaRussa. He’s not your average athlete – or your average manager.

Q: I’m glad to know Scooter enjoyed the poetry collection. I loved knowing how he inscribed your copy. Did he ever do a book signing?

A: No. In the beginning, ECCO Press was trying desperately to arrange something, but it was a tiny publishing house, and I think Phil was uncertain about kind of reception the book would receive, and everything fell through. After that, I don’t think anybody tried.

I would tell friends to send Rizzuto a book and a self-addressed return envelope, and I gave them his home address – he allowed that; that’s how he was. He would autograph the book and include a pile of autographed glossies and usually a nice note. People would call me to say they were overwhelmed by his reply. They’d say, “Wow, you and he must be really close!” even though we’d only met once. That’s the kind of person he was.

Q: For other readers of Juju Rules wondering how they’d get their copy autographed…any suggestions? (Signed bookplates?)

A: Best thing to do, if anybody wants a signed book or anything, is write me at the Syracuse Post-Standard, Clinton Square, Syracuse, NY 13221, where I work. I’ll do my best to overwhelm them – but I have no glossies. I’ll figure something out, if only to honor the memory of The Scooter.

Coming Monday: An autographed update from Sid “Sid Slid” Bream.

Being Yankees Coach Kevin Long

Batting coach Kevin Long gets good press. Players praise him. A hitting Houdini.

However, the media likes to look at how coaches like Long keep superstars super. I like to think about coaches keeping a guy in the lineup, or helping him avoid a trip back to the minors.

Therefore, today’s post is not for you hobby stars out there. For everyone with want lists, a set project, a tight collecting focus — I salute you. Keep being you.

This is for those in hobby slumps. The traditional advice tells you to do more work. That doesn’t always change the outcome.

Instead, I’m saying do LESS.

Just do it BETTER.


Avoid hobby burnout. Do your job. Love your family. Savor your relationships.

Then, try just one letter a day. Or, even one letter a week. First, think about who you’re writing to and what you’re saying in the letter. Why did you choose that person?

Stop thinking about quantity. The burning desire of getting one of everything from everyone causes hobby burnout. Think about quality.

Choose wisely.

The Juju Rules: Yankee Fan-tastic!

Hart Seely is the type of baseball fan so many of us are — but we are afraid of someone else discovering our secret.

He ranks among league leaders in 2012 with one of the longest titles in ages for a baseball book:

The JUJU Rules*

*Or, How to Win Ballgames From Your Couch: A Memoir of a Fan Obsessed

His book is such fun I’ve got an alternate title, one of nearly the same length —

I Know You Wanna Say It, Yankee Fans. Let Me Help!

Seely is the real deal, no fan faker. He was co-editor of O Holy Cow! The Selected Verse of Phil Rizzuto, a 2008 book that roasted the free-association on-air ramblings of the long-time Yankee voice. To the untrained ear, “Scooter” babbled about whatever crossed his mind — often miles away from any baseball topic. To Seely, poetic asides punctuated Yankee broadcasts.

In Juju Rules, Seely creates a faux playbook for die-hard fans. He claims to have honed special powers “of influencing the outcome of sporting events through seemingly unrelated acts, in the comfort and privacy of your own home.”

While other books will rehash player bios, Seely lets fellow fans star in his instructional equivalent of a Seinfeld monologue. Not until page 141 do readers attend a Yankees game. Then, at the 1987 season opener at Yankee Stadium, Seely provides a tribute to the ballpark, not to any players.

In case readers fear a sentimental high-sugar content in the pages, don’t. Seely riffs on an assortment of baseball personality, Yankee-related and otherwise. The author must have cackled every time he referred to the Boston rivals as “Redsock.” He pummels Manny Ramirez for a whole gleeful page.

As for Rizzuto? Seely tells of nearly sharing a half-inning in the booth during a Yankees game, then getting a specially-inscribed copy of the poetry book as a consolation prize. The author comes from the same quirky, pinstriped stock as Scooter. Any ribbing is done with love.

Fans of any team would relate to, and giggle through, The Juju Rules. Even former manager Tony LaRussa has penned a glowing endorsement for the book, saying that the story is familiar, entertaining and universal.

Except, a National League manager liked this book, then came out of retirement to thump Yankees and all other American Leaguers in the All-Star Game?

Did LaRussa use Hart Seely’s juju against him and the Yankees in Kansas City? Sounds like a sequel!

Coming Friday: Meet Doug Ennis, White Sox autograph collector!

A Meaningful NY Yankee Autograph Collection? ‘The Lost Collector’ Found a Way!

Check out this 2005 TTM success from Phil Rizzuto. Says A.J. — “I sent him a nice note and a few memories I had of him, including the way my Italian grandmother and I used to enjoy the way he talked about food on air. I also included a check for a few dollars in hopes that he would sign my card. Not only did he sign my card, but sent a small signed photo (It read: “Tell Nonna I sure would love to have some of those ravioli”) and sent my check back and wrote on it “No Charge, AJ. Scooter #10″. It just goes to show that a sincere letter can go a long way.”

Reader feedback is the best. I love writing about collectors, because it inspires more stories. We can learn so much from each other.

Take A.J., for example. A humble guy, he asked me to withhold his last name. All names aside, you should know him as “The Lost Collector.” This talented fellow blogger shared his personalized plan for collecting what he cares about — along with the tale of how he returned to the hobby after getting overwhelmed with card choices and other challenges. I’m grateful that he tells his story in the following e-interview.

Q: I love the Yankees project. What was the inspiration? You acquired all the signed cards yourself TTM? What was the time span?

A: I’ve been interested in signed Yankees cards via TTM for as long as I can remember. Back in high school (early 2000s), I had TTM success from Gil McDougald (on 1959 Topps) and Mel Stottlemyre (on a 1972 Topps).  I loved having vintage cards signed, and three years ago I had the idea to try and get a signed Topps card of a different Yankees player for as long as Topps has been in the business. I could never send out requests with any consistency, but having this project as my goal kept me interested in the hobby and sending out requests on a regular basis. I had to acquire the cards, research who to send to from which years, and then take the chance of sending. I did in fact acquire all of the cards myself via TTM requests (and many other cards too that didn’t make it into the project). I also managed to complete the project without sending to any players who require fees, which just goes to show how many generous signers there are still out there.

 Q: Steve Kraly is Mr. Binghamton. What kind of response did he supply?

A: I’m glad you asked. I did in fact mention to Mr. Kraly where I grew up, and he wrote me a very nice note back, about two pages in length. He told me a lot about his time playing in Binghamton, such as his stats before being called up. He shared other fond memories, including the fact that he met his wife there. He still lives there and stays involved in the game by being the official scorer of the Binghamton Mets (Double A). I sent him two 1955 Topps cards, asking him to keep one, but he signed both and returned them to me.

Q: THE LOST COLLECTOR is a great title. What’s been different — and better — in your second time around as a hobbyist?

A: The second time around, I feel like I’m a lot more mature and focused (despite my blog title). Back in my early days of collecting, I’d pull a card and immediately look at what it was “worth” in Beckett. That has changed now. I can’t tell you the last time I’ve looked in a price guide. It’s more fun now because the cards have a lot more personal worth to me. I still feel “lost” at times based on all the card issues I missed while I was out of collecting (the certified auto craze and game-used cards really happened while I was gone), but it gives me something to look forward to in trades – knowing that there are so many Yankees cards out there I haven’t seen and don’t own.

Q: I love how you quiz minor leaguers about a future goal. Who’ve been some of the best answers?

I often ask a player who they admired growing up, and what pitcher/batter they most look forward to facing. I get a lot of the usual suspects – Jeter, Pujols, Griffey.

 Q: What’s been the most fun, satisfying parts of having a blog?

A: Having a blog has kept me interested in collecting. Not only does it give me a place to trade and acquire new cards, but it’s a daily activity in the hobby that doesn’t have to revolve around buying new cards or visiting a shop. Every day, I scroll through my blogroll and check out what everyone is talking about. In this sense, it keeps me interested day in and day out.

Sometimes, your
all-time favorite
player still signs
TTM, A.J. found!

Q: Current autograph project/focus/goal?

A: My focus lately has been minor leaguers/prospects. I follow the Yankees minor league system closely, so when I am able to get a TTM success from guys I’m a fan of – whether or not they actually make it to the majors – is an awesome feeling. I would like to start a new project soon, but for now I’m enjoying sending to minor leaguers. I have a five-month-old son, and have gotten a few players to personalize cards to him (Pat Neshek and Virgil Trucks have done it), so perhaps I’ll shift the focus away from my collection and start getting cards signed for him. It could be cool for him to have when he’s older.

 Q: Advice for almost-lost autograph collectors, those who may be getting disillusioned with
lowTTM response rates, scribbly signatures, guys who charge, etc.? Do you see any silver
linings to the dark clouds in the autograph hobby?

A” It’s definitely getting tougher and tougher. I’d advise anyone struggling with the hobby to think of your own project – one that’s both attainable and challenging (i.e. trying to collect a signed team set of 1987 Topps). I’ve never been so inspired to send out requests than I was when I only need a few more cards to complete my own project. It kept me interested and focused, and I’m not sure I’d be TTMing today if it wasn’t for my project’s completion driving me. Lastly, don’t send anything you can’t afford to lose. There’s always the risk, no matter who you send to.

Coming Monday: Remembering Twins pitcher Dave Boswell

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