Eddie O’Brien, Gone At Age 83

One half of one of the most amazing Topps cards of the 1950s is gone.

Eddie O’Brien amazed me in 2010 with a letter that told about that famed card with his brother, his brief stint as a Pirates pitcher and getting scouted by Bing Crosby.
The always-amazing www.sportscollectors.net tallied 152 responses in 166 tries for Eddie O.
Eddie was famous, too, for taking the 1954 card (or the Archives) to his brother John for a second autograph. I don’t think most TTM collectors requested the effort. It was usually a surprise. Two autographs, one stamp, giving “double play” new meaning.
Great friends to the hobby remain. Write them while you can.

Pirate Dick Groat Still Loves Baseball

Sixty years later, expect the
same autograph — maybe
even more ornate than in 1952!

I’ve” been asking some of the greatest autograph signers in hobby history why they do it.

I thank them. Then, I ask why they’ve been so kind for so long.

Pittsburgh Pirates fans will be the first to understand the short, sincere reply of Dick Groat:

“Love of the ‘game’

Greatest Life in the World

Dick Groat
1960 N.L. MVP

You may not get a one-page letter back from the steady shortstop. You will get fast, crisp signatures, along with the acknowledgement that you’re part of the same team. HIS team. The team that believes in baseball.

Coming Wednesday: How Antiques Roadshow hurts our hobby.

“The Baseball Hall of Shame” Reopens With “The Best of Blooperstown” — Strange, But True FUN!

One cool fact: 86-year-old
sports artist Jack Davis,
illustrator of previous editions,
came out of retirement
to adorn this cover, too!

Major League Baseball can laugh at itself!

Authors Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo are back again. (Take that, Simon and Garfunkel!) The pair have revived their “Baseball Hall of Fame” series with a fifth title called The Best of Blooperstown.

This offbeat book combines a “best of” format, while adding 40 percent new stories.

In tales as recent as 2011, the five newest inductees include Orlando Hudson, Denard Span, John Lindsey, Lastings Milledge and Chris Coughlan.

My favorite tales? Nash and Zullo uncover a pair of gems for autograph collectors. Once, Will McEnany substituted his uniformed twin brother in the Pirates bullpen. Not only did he fool skipper Chuck Tanner, the reliever’s kin signed autographs for fans. Talk about a rare variation to collect?

Also, readers discover why outfielder Al Smith once signed autographs only for fans who claimed to have the same last name.

This book is fun reading for a full nine innings. Each story may run one or two pages. Read it during the commercial breaks for your next televised baseball game viewing.

Best of all, the infamous wrong-doers in this book share a laugh with the authors. There’s no denials or finger-pointing over what went wrong on the field. I could imagine the highlighted subjects signing autographs for a collector who wrote them about their diamond misdeeds. The players seem to appreciate the recognition. After all, they won’t be forgotten, as long as Nash and Zullo are the keepers of the game’s hilarious history. I’m glad they’re back and on my bookshelf again.

Pirate Paul Smith As ‘Casey At The Bat’

Should have asked…
Does Smith know he and his
card are comic fodder  in
‘The Great American Baseball
Card Flipping, Trading and Bubble
Gum Book’?

Call me a mind reader.

Just as a formality, I asked Paul Smith which of his seven homers was a favorite. I knew, however. Sure enough, Smith agreed, saying:

Favorite home run – against Brooklyn , ninth inning, pinch-hit HR to tie the game with two outs and two strikes.”

Cheers to http://www.retrosheet.org/ for the details!

Smith played ball in Havana, before there was any Fidel Castro. What was it like?

“I had played winter ball in Cuba 1952-53 and had a great season. The fans were great when I played for the AAA team.”

I read that Smith had suffered concussions as a player. A hitch in the armed forces may have complicated his career, too.

Smith didn’t make excuses, noting:

“Concussions – hard hat (helmet) made it minor! Headaches for a couple of days.

Military – a year in Iceland.”

Before thanking me for the questions, Smith summed up:

“Life in baseball is great. See a lot of the country. It’s a challenge when you’re only 5-foot-8.”

Thursday: A Cubs teammate remembers Ken Hubbs


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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