Don Mincher’s Autograph Legacy

Rejoining his old team…

Slugging Don Mincher died Sunday at age 73.

How will he be remembered? There’s lots of choices:

  • 1965 A.L. champion Minnesota Twin
  • 1969 Seattle Pilots all-star
  • Minor league mogul…including Huntsville Stars owner and Southern League president

I might add something else to the list: autograph admission fee pioneer.

I scoured the success board on www.sportscollectors.net. Since 2002, Mincher was charging a fee for his autograph by mail. He started out working through a broker, a fan mail clearinghouse. Soon, he was handling his own mail. A shrewd businessman, Mincher must have learned that it wasn’t that tough to keep all the profit.

Reading the results more closely, I see that Mincher was willing to add notations such as “1969 Seattle Pilots.” Several people, such as my friends at www.autographaddict.com, got questions answered.

I’m guessing that Mincher may have given freely to anyone buying a ticket to his Huntsville Stars. Likewise, I think he wasn’t selling individual autographs as much as he was judging the sincerity of each request.

The late Phil Rizzuto was famous for doing this. The check would be returned with a “No Charge!” announcement penned by The Scooter. He’d include an extended personalized inscription (seeing how many words would fit atop a Hall of Fame plaque postcard).

Not that Mincher sent out freebies. Nevertheless, he was one of a breed of autograph signers who seemed to use the fee as a bouncer and velvet rope. The request for money lessens the fan mail load while scaring off casual collectors.

Thanks to men like Mincher, I ask two questions about signing policies: how much and WHY.

1970 Brewer Pitcher Ray Peters Amazes

Just two starts in the bigs,
then selling for 99 cents
on ebay? Ray Peters
deserves better!

To be honest, I groaned when I opened the envelope.

I cherish hand-written replies to my questions. A former Milwaukee Brave (whose reply will be shared in the next week) seemed to use a manual typewriter to send a flawless, hand-crafted reply. Look at his page and you’d time-travel back to the 1950s.

But this one? I saw that “Tom” was hand-written atop a preprinted page. Was this an autograph price list?

Hardly!

Ray Peters, a 1970 Milwaukee Brewers pitcher for two games, condensed his baseball life into a one-page narrative. He added details about his minor league adventures, and a note about he ALMOST appeared on two Topps cards. Peters holds the distinction of being a first-round draft pick for the 1969 Seattle Pilots. Teams had tried to draft the Harvard product four times without signing him.

I marveled at seeing his two major league starts summed up in one sparkling paragraph:

“Though my major league career was a matter of days, I was fortunate to pitch against my batting heroes when I was growing up — Al Kaline was my favorite right-handed batter and Vada Pinson was my favorite left-handed hitter. I walked Kaline and got Pinson (who should be in the Hall of Fame) to fly out, after he singled in his first at bat. LUCK plays a great part in sports. In my two innings, I gave up only singles, four of which were broken-bat bloops. Against Detroit I walked two and one batter got a single; I was taken out and the reliever gave up a grand slam home run and I’m sent back to the minors!!! That’s life.”

By hand, the grateful pitcher wrote with perfect penmanship:

Ray Peters #41 Milwaukee Brewers 1970
#60 Seattle Pilots 1969
— spring training Tempe, AZ”

Remember to look for more Ray Peters-like names as you collect in 2011. Look beyond the statistics and awards.  Everyone gets the all-stars. For me, I’d choose prefer the all-star storytellers.

Tomorrow: Remember that all-star train wreck between Pete Rose and Ray Fosse? Cub eyewitness Jim Hickman did, sharing his insight.

Pilot Jerry McNertney Never Forgot Seattle


Catcher Jerry McNertney found that his most productive season in a nine-year career came with the 1969 Seattle Pilots. Looking back, those career highs at bat weren’t the only things he missed about the Pacific Northwest. McNertney wrote:

“Wonderful time in Seattle! Great fans, loved the game! Great outdoors country! Wish we could have returned!”

McNertney relocated to Milwaukee, serving as opening-day catcher for the Brewers. He returned there in 2010 to relive those uncertain first days with the Brew Crew in a special ceremony.

Ribbed by author Jim Bouton in Ball Four
for his clean-cut Midwestern attitude, McNertney claimed years later that he never read the book. Bouton didn’t seem to recall McNertney’s one-day vacation from good behavior. McNertney wrote:

“That ejection in Detroit: I can’t remember the ump. But I remember the hitter and pitcher, Norm Cash and John Gelnar. We had him K’d, but the ump disagreed!”

The ever-fascinating www.retrosheet.org uncovered McNertney’s clash with authority. Cash was awarded a walk. Subsequently, umpire Larry Napp provided McNertney a long walk back to the dugout, ejecting the normally-stoic backstop.

One of McNertney’s greatest accomplishments in baseball came in never forgetting his Iowa roots. His hometown honored him in 2009 with Jerry McNertney Day.

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