St. Louis Brown Don Gutteridge Shocked Over 1944 Play Ball Card

I’ve just read the eye-opening Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession

This is more history of the card INDUSTRY than I ever imagined.  The book is not a love letter to card makers.  Readers will recoil over some early behaviors of Bowman and Topps. For instance, Jim Bouton shares how he felt a Topps exec bullied minor leaguers into signing away their exclusive card appearance rights for a $5 retainer. Bouton didn’t bite, insisting his father should review the contract first.

Instead of interviewing card company officials, I’d rather know more about how it felt to be a face on those cards. When I wrote to former St. Louis Brown Don Gutteridge in 2000 about his 1944 “Play Ball” card, I got a surprising letter in return:

“I do not even remember giving anyone permission to use my name on a card. In fact, I did not see the 1944 (Play Ball) card until a few years ago (in the 1990s) when someone sent me the card and asked me to please sign it for them. The company never contacted me. In fact, I would like to have a couple of those cards for my own mementos. I think it’s very nice to have your picture and data on a card. It is so nice to be remembered.”

Reading Between the Lines of An Autographed Baseball Book

Bobby Plapinger is one of America’s foremost names to baseball book collectors.
As “R. Plapinger Baseball Books,” he’s become an adored author in his own
league. Look at his sale catalog, and you’ll see his mini-reviews are
penned by a grateful, learned fan of the game.

I asked BP (no, not THAT B.P.) what noted autographs he’s discovered in
his years as a bookologist. He offered two juicy tales:

“The first starts in 1989 – probably in the Spring. I was on my annual trip to New York to visit family… and… of course … the Strand bookstore.

By pure chance, I arrived in the Strand’s Rare Book Room on the day they
were unpacking books from Bob Fishel’s estate.

I recognized the name Fishel, but wasn’t well acquainted with him. I did,
however, “know” alot of his books & purchased quite a few of them – many
inscribed to Fishel by the authors.

When I got the books home & had a chance to carefully inspect them, I learned a little more about Bob Fishel.

Turns out he’d started out working for Veeck & the St. Louis Browns – he was
the guy who “found” Eddie Gaedel.

After the Browns, Fishel worked for the Yankees for a long time, before
finally ending up in the American League office. The annual award given to
baseball publicists is named after him.

It was clear from many of the inscriptions that “baseball people” considered
Fishel not only to be a friend & colleague, but a beloved one.

A copy of Bill Veeck’s “sequel” to his autobiography (“Veeck as In Wreck”) –
“The Hustler’s Handbook”, had a page long inscription in Veeck’s handwriting
that read, in part, “To Bob… It’s almost impossible to … explain how
much you’ve meant.. to us”.

In the copy of his “It Takes Heart” which he gave to Fishel, Mel Allen wrote
“To Bob, It has been said: ‘What we have done for ourselves alone dies with
us, what we have done for others in the world remains and is immortal.’ To
me, Bob, you are immortal. I am sincerely grateful for your warm friendship.
Mel Allen.”

Other inscriptions from other authors were similarly heartfelt, but these
two, in particular, struck me as almost transcending “inscriptions in a
book”. To me, they were almost like letters from the authors, testifying to
the strong feelings they had for their close colleague and friend.”

At press time, Bauman Rare Books was selling the Mel Allen signed edition for $800.

Friends of this blog need to email Bob at Tell Bob that “Baseball By The Letters” sent you. Ask for his latest catalog, which he’ll send as a PDF.

Tomorrow: The intriguing untold story of a baseball book’s wink-and-nod inscription.

J.W. Porter Remembers Tiger Stadium

J.W. Porter appreciated every game. Active from 1952-59, he converted to catching to prolong his career. In the 1950s, he played six different positions while collecting some keen baseball insights.

He wrote…

“Tiger Stadium was the perfect stadium. Fair to both pitcher and hitter. What made it perfect, however, was that it was perfect for the fan. Not a bad seat in the place and you felt you could reach out and touch the players.”

In 1958, one of Porter’s Cleveland teammates was a young Roger Maris.

“Roger was a great teammate on and off the field. He had a fine rookie year and should never have been traded. It was surprising to everyone what he did in 1961. I guess it was a case of a player finding the perfect park for his particular swing.

“He would probably hit 90 homers in new Yankee Stadium.”

Although Porter uncorked just eight homers in his major league career, two blasts seemed sweetest.

“One of my homers was an extra-inning pinch-hit off Billy O’Dell. That was my only walk-off homer. The one I’ll remember the most, however, was against Don Larsen, the first game he pitched the next year following his perfect game.”

Porter is one of the dwindling group of St. Louis Browns survivors. Most of all, he seems one of baseball’s most grateful alums.

“Thanks for asking,” he signed.

My pleasure, J.W.

Pitcher Duane Pillette’s Field of Dreams

Duane Pillette is an eternal all-star. Forget the statistics. I’m talking about a baseball evangelist, someone unmatched at spreading love for the game.

Pillette responded with a 2-1/2 page response to questions about his career.
His insightful, inspirational letter is worthy of Hall of Fame enshrinement.

First of all, Pillette offered a perspective of his time with the St. Louis
Browns not heard from many Brownies. How did it feel to go from 1953 Brown
to a charter member of the Baltimore Orioles?

“Tom: The St. Louis Browns became the Baltimore Orioles. They were really the same team. But St. Louis’ park was used by the Cardinals, also, and the infield was dirt, not grass.

Baltimore had grass, and I was a ground-ball pitcher. So in 1954, my only year with them, I made the All-Star team.”

For fans, Baltimore was Memorial Stadium.

For Pillette, Memorable Stadium!

Tomorrow, discover Pillete’s inspiring story of his major league father.

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