Don’t Forget Baseball’s Team Trainers!

Kyle Smego’s hobby legwork
yielded a return letter filled with
impressive baseball memories.

Don’t “he never” yourself out of a great collection.

For instance:

He never starred anywhere.

He never played in the majors.

He never played ANYWHERE.

Never say never. Behind that little-known name might be some classic baseball tales.

Kyle Smego, the driving force behind the “Autograph Addict” website, found that out when he acquired some vintage minor league cards. Being a true collector, he contacted EVERYONE in the set.

One of the classiest responses came from a 1980 El Paso Diablos team trainer.

Don Smelser was in the right place at the right time. He saw Tom Brunansky flirt with an epic five homers in one game. Smelser watched “The Famous Chicken” make his minor league debut, being a part of some now-classic routines. For days off, Smelser found a Hall of Famer for a golf buddy, pitcher-turned-coach Warren Spahn.

Kyle reaped this history bonanza through kindness. He began his letter offering to snare an extra card for Smelser, if the former trainer didn’t have one. A good lesson for us all: think about what you’re giving, not just what you hope to be getting.

Well done, Kyle!

Coming Wednesday: Remember the short-lived Senior League? One collector is getting tough autographs for a “song.”

Who’s Worthy Of Your Autograph Collection?

Some collectors feel
anyone on a baseball
card is worthy

Who belongs in your autograph collection?

One early rule all collectors need is:

Collect what you like and WHO you like.

However, as signing habits change for current and former baseball players, keep this in mind:

Many groups are part of baseball history. Former owners. Broadcasters. Scouts. General managers like Pat Gillick. Even mascots.

I’ve spent time with Ted Giannoulas twice. He impresses me as a student of baseball history. I hope he writes a book about his career. He was thrilled to sign his full name on my Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box.

On, I spotted some enterprising collector who sought out Dr. Frank Jobe (the pioneer of “Tommy John surgery” who has saved so many pitching careers) by mail for an autograph.

Every fan is different. The same should be true for each collection. However, I’m not going to wait for Cooperstown to tell me who’s a worthy signature.

Coming Monday: A letter from Yankee Hector Lopez, the pride of Panama!

Thanking Baseball 100 Times

My first crisis in faith as a baseball fan came in 2002. I had survived ugly uniforms, artificial turf and a season with no World Series. But seeing the All-Star Game skid to a 7-7 tied halt pushed me over the brink. Rumors of another strike seemed too much.

I couldn’t change the game on the field. I could preserve the game in my head — and my heart.

I wrote 100 thank-you notes that year. I wrote to the names in MY baseball history. Stars of seemingly-ordinary games that I attended or followed by TV or radio. The outcomes may have been meaningless to the standings, but not to me. Baseball “stars” who may have seen their glimmer fade fast still sparkled in my memory, and I wanted them to know. Other times, I sent overdue gratitude. For instance, I thanked Lulu Harwell for sharing Ernie with the baseball world all those years.

Breaking every rule of autograph collecting, I did not enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope for anyone I contacted by U.S. Mail. I was writing my biography as a baseball fan, sharing one page of the story with each member of my personal Hall of Fame.

The phone rang three times. The first call came from Jimmy “The Toy Cannon” Wynn, astounded at the story of him being the first baseball card I ever found in a pack (1969). Ted “The Famous Chicken” Giannoulas phoned next, commenting on my assessment of the ludicrous lawsuit he faced against a cup-of-coffee pitcher. Most amazing of all, fellow Iowan Bruce Kimm, then-interim manager of the Chicago Cubs, called me from his Wrigley Field office before a game. He said he appreciated the praise I offered for his role in Mark Fidrych’s success. Asking how his team was that day, his cryptic reply sticks with me:

“The Cubs will be fine.”

Other replies thanking me for my appreciation followed by U.S. Mail. I’ll share those in the future. My “success rate” isn’t the important moral of this story. What’s vital to remember is that fans like us matter. Speak up. Speak out. Let those you appreciate hear your cheers once more, even if it’s only inside an envelope.