How Far Would You Go For An Autograph? The Hobby’s Future Is At Stake

Conning Carlton for a
free autograph?

I’ve never been good at footnotes.

My aging memory seems to recall a tale (or urban legend?) in which non-signing Steve Carlton was asked for an autograph by a young man in a wheelchair. Carlton’s teammates urged him to sign.

He agreed, only to watch the fan leap from the wheelchair, laughing at the deception.

If true, I’d claim such duplicity wouldn’t be as bad as deceiving someone with a written autograph request. (Unless someone produces incriminating Youtube footage…)

Think about it. Whether by e-mail or by U.S. Mail, there’s a trail of evidence. One shady letter could be the smoking gun that a reluctant autograph giver would need to shut down the giving (or set up a stiff fee schedule for signatures).

This scam from 2011 wasn’t limited to baseball autographs. However, the ramifications of future fiascos could cause an organized pushback against collectors. Don’t bend the truth about subscribing to a Tigers newsletter, being an admiring little kid or any other tale you can’t back up. With the Internet, former players could Google our behinds as fast as we research them.

Is Former Manager Frank Lucchesi One Of the Bizarro Supermen?

Frank Lucchesi answered my letter. Sort of?

Imagine giving a press conference. Questions? The trick is, no answers will match anything asked.
I read my share of DC Comics. This is straight Bizarro Superman stuff.
Lucchesi used the special piece of paper I enclosed for his reply.

Here is what I asked:

1. You started as a playing manager in 1951. Under what conditions might a player-manager get a chance in the majors today?

2. In your years in the Phillies farm system, who are some of your prize pupils, and how did you help them on the field?

3. From the 1970 Phillies helm to leadership of the 1987 Cubs: how did the pressures or demands of big league managing change in those years?

His answers?

1. My best hitter was Rich Allen.
2. My best two pitchers, Fergie Jenkins and Steve Carlton
3. Best city I like was Philadelphia.
4. My best infielder was Larry Bowa.

Those were nice. Totally baffling, but nice. If you write to Lucchesi, expect an answer. What kind of an answer? That’s the question!

Phils Coach Ray Rippelmeyer’s Pet Project: Pitcher Steve Carlton

Ray Rippelmeyer impresses me. I wrote to him asking about his legendary work as a 1970s Phillies pitching coach. Also, I quizzed the former pitcher on his only career homer.

The pride of Valmeyer, Illinois, the 77-year-old baseball scholar shared how he transformed Steve Carlton from thrower to pitcher, writing:

“Steve Carlton was my pet project. I had seen him pitch in Tulsa when I was a pitching coach in the minors for the Phillies. I had seen him throw a hard breaking ball besides his big 12-6 overland curveball. The Cardinals wouldn’t let him throw it, as he told me the first day he threw for me after the trade. He said they told him he would lose his curveball if he threw a slider. I told him they didn’t know what they were talking about and we were going to throw it. The rest is HISTORY.”

Another prize pupil of Phils coach R.R.?

“I was with Bob Boone (as roving instructor) when we made him into a catcher from a third baseman. he had the arm and good hands and was willing to work. I got him down low and we talked a lot about calling games.”

Tomorrow: It’s April 14, 1962. Take the mound with Ray in his major league debut.

Learn why he says, “That day in early May was one I’ll never forget.”

I just found an example of Rippelmeyer’s autograph online. Those 1970s Topps cards, fitting the floating heads of an entire coaching staff onto one card? Ray squeezed his name onto the 1974, saving room for other Phils. Learn more about the card at this link!

Cheers for a Father-Son Hobby Team

One of my favorite hobby stops is the Autograph Addict.

This site is the collaboration of father-and-son collectors Kyle and Tyler Smego. You might spot them at Camden Yards as many as 30 games a year.

Through the mail, they’re collecting memories.

In January, the Smegos posted 40 questionnaire responses, saying they had a couple hundred more. What’s the current count?

“I try to get these online as quickly as I receive them, but it’s hard to keep up,” Kyle said. “I still have, at least, a couple hundred more that are waiting to be posted. It seems like we get around 10-15 back every month though. In the past we have tried to send the same questionnaire out to all the players (Tyler made up the questions. We try to keep it questions that the players can quickly jot down an answer.”

These “autograph addicts” are gleaning great insights from baseball history makers. Pitching coach Ray Rippelmeyer talked about teaching Steve Carlton the slider. We all know how that experiment turned out.

“Ray was one of the longest letters we have received, but not the longest,” Kyle said. “We have received many responses where the player filled out our questionnaire and wrote a letter. Some of the longer responses include: Rippelmeyer, Duane Pillette, Bobby Shantz, Jake Gibbs, Ernie Broglio, Don Ferrarese, etc….even Phil Niekro and Tony Kubek. All of those guys wrote a page or two or three.”

The Smegos’ best-ever response?

“Our longest correspondence however has been with Ken Retzer,” Kyle said. “I saw that you blogged about him this week. He really is a great guy. He likes to tell stories about his playing days with the Senators, catching JFK, his family, and his business ventures. Over the past year he has sent several letters and included some neat items each time. One time he sent a copy of an old menu from his diner that he used to own (Home Plate), a couple of pictures of his family, some additional pictures of him with JFK, copies of all his baseball cards, etc. He plans on coming out to the DC area sometime soon and I look forward to taking him out to dinner.”

Kyle and Tyler are making the hobby their own. They’ve asked for suggestions for other fun questions they can be asking. Ask someone about what they think of when they see the photo on a certain baseball card.

More than 30 years ago, Twins infielder rolled his eyes and grinned while signing his SSPC “Pure” card. I asked him if he liked that card.

“I think they took photos on the hottest day of spring training right after wind sprints,” I seem to remember Terrell saying. “Look at how sweaty we look. Look at the other Twins cards, and you’ll see what I mean.”

What fun questions do you ask when you write a former player?

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