Hall of Famer Johnny Mize, World War II veteran, transformed every day into Memorial Day

The real autograph
Did you ever wonder as a kid, looking at the facsimile autograph on a card? What did that player’s autograph REALLY look like. Johnny Mize showed at a 1980s card show, that his autograph hadn’t changed in three decades!

Here’s a memory I shared back in 2011. It’s a story worth telling, again and again. Have you ever sent an extra card when asking for an autograph? Here’s an example of what your gift might inspire.

When I think of Memorial Day, I think of the “Big Cat.”

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Imagine a baseball Hall of Famer sauntering through an airport concourse or hotel lobby. He’s friendly. Not just when someone recognizes him and asks for an autograph.

He greets strangers. Then, he opens his sport coat. From the breast pocket, he produces a Perez-Steele postcard, a Hall of Fame plaque postcard, or a vintage 1950s Topps card.

For uniformed military personnel, he adds: “Thank you for your service.”

This wasn’t a rumor. This was the life of Johnny Mize.

During my brief tenure as co-editor of Sports Collectors Digest, I represented the magazine at an Iowa card show. When the show organizer came up short on tables, he asked if I’d be willing to sit at the autograph table.

Was that okay with me? Uh…YES!

When a young girl in a wheelchair approached the table, having just an index card, Mize said, “Just a minute.”

He slowly, gently lowered himself (on two new surgically-repaired knees) to be at eye level with the young fan. “I want you to have this.” Out came a 1952 Topps card. No. Not a reprint. This was the real thing from the real “Big Cat.”

He seemed a bit embarrassed when he returned to his seat and my jaw still hung wide.

“Sometimes, someone sends me an extra,” Mize shrugged. “I share them.”

Mize said he liked to seek out “special” children or men and women in uniform. “I know what that’s like,” he said of his World War II service.

Mize felt a sacred obligation more than three decades after leaving the field. The public counted. Every collector mattered.

“I did one of these shows with Lenny Dykstra,” he said. “Do you know who he is?”

I nodded slowly, preparing myself for the possible bombshell. It came. Boy, did it ever!

“He showed up in a jogging suit wearing headphones. He wouldn’t talk with the people. .In my day, he couldn’t carry my jockey strap.”

(Sorry, “Nails.” That’s how he felt. That’s what he SAID. Serious shade!)

I was saddened that more people didn’t bother to spend a moment with Mize. The show was lightly attended. He would have talked to anyone, not just paying holders of autograph tickets. I believe collectors thought he’d be at more hobby shows in the future. They had gotten his signature before.

He was easy to get by mail. Mize had started asking for a small donation for his local Georgia boy scout troop. (Previously, the boys had to sell Vidalia onions door-to-door to raise money for community projects, he explained.)

Still, he was a bargain. (I believe his initial fee by mail was $2 per autograph). To the end, he could produce a signature that matched his 1952 Topps to the letter. I saw him do it again and again.

Everyone got a small, sincere smile and a noble nod with their autograph. In fact, collectors got thanked by the man himself.

That’s why I write to so many names from baseball’s past. I know that, behind every signature, is a story.

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P.S. – While I’ll never recreate in words the sweet sound of a conversation with Johnny Mize, the next best thing is hearing his humble, sincere Hall of Fame speech in 1981.

Catcher Caleb Joseph shows TTM autograph collectors that Major Leaguers are human, too

For this 2015 makeup game with no fans, Caleb Joseph signed for his invisible supporters.

Applause to the Facebook site “Baseball TTM Autographs” and collector Ryan Hilliard. They reminded us of one shocking but needed fact. Current and former major leaguers are human, too.

Caleb Joseph has been a part of baseball autograph lore since 2015. The Orioles and the White Sox played a makeup game in Baltimore, due to civil rights protests cancelling the original contest. Only the media attended the makeup, due to safety concerns from the local police.

Caleb got into the spirit of a “ghost game.” Before play started, Caleb approached the box seats and started his pantomime impression of signing a real autograph for a real fan. Photographers loved his antics.

Well, Caleb still understands what fans and collectors mean to baseball. When his basement flooded, he sent Ryan and other collectors a photocopied note of apology. He was sorry many TTM cards got ruined by the flood, but he tried to sign even the most-damaged ones. Caleb closed with the offer to collectors that he’d welcome fan mail at home after the 2021 season.

What does the Caleb Joseph story confirm? It points out that major leaguers are people, largely without secretarial staffs to sort and send signed replies. They are busy trying to keep their baseball jobs, all the while maintaining a personal life.

Therefore, I’d urge readers to make their letters and requests as easy as possible to reply to. Especially during the season, it’s unlikely you may land the undivided attention of a current player. When you do, appreciate the backstory that each reply must have. And, consider those damaged cards one-of-a-kind collectibles.

Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale led by example, says Dodgers teammate Claude Osteen

In 2010, long-time Dodgers pitcher Claude Osteen sent me a stunning response to my letter. In honor of the team’s 2020 World Series title, I wanted to share Osteen’s insights one more time.
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Dodgers pitcher Claude Osteen
(Photo courtesy Mark Langill, Dodgers team historian)

Pitcher Claude Osteen overwhelmed me with his reply. His was a letter filled with the insights of a winner.

I related to him the amazing conversation I overheard before a 1980s AAA game in Tacoma. Coach Osteen chatted with young pitchers in the bullpen, telling how getting your elbow “scooped” (bone chips removed) was great.

I realized his passion for pitching. The minor leaguers hung on his every word. He could relate to their journey to the bigs. They knew was a devoted member of the Dodgers family, focused on the organization’s future.

Where did that passion and devotion come from? Did he find role models in Los Angeles? Osteen wrote:

“I learned from Koufax and Drysdale what it meant to be a Dodger and how the name was synonymous with pitching. I was embarrassed not to pitch well.”

Claude Osteen with Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale
Claude Osteen (center) clowns around with fellow pitchers Sandy Koufax (with cap) and Don Drysdale. Behind Osteen, it seems, hangs a pair of boxer shorts with either polka dots or tiny hearts.

Osteen’s name will always be synonymous with autograph collectors. My favorite resource, www.sportscollectors.net, reported that the 81-year-old has responded to more than 800 autograph requests. The collector success rate, says the website, is 97 percent!

 

 

 

Phillies pitcher Thornton Kipper never forgot how he humbled Leo Durocher’s New York Giants


Before he died in 2006 at age 77, Thornton Kipper gave me a clue of life in 1950s Philadelphia as a post “Whiz Kid.”

The 6-foot-3 righty became an All-American pitcher at the University of Wisconsin. I asked Kipper about being a Wisconsin native in the majors, debuting in 1953. Did anyone he know see him pitch in person? As a Phillies veteran, could he recall the look and feel of Philadelphia’s Shibe Park and its neighborhood? Most of all, did one of his three career victories from 1953 seem ESPN worthy — a moment he was proudest of?

“Kip” replied:

“1. Many times — results were usually good, although I did walk the winning run home in the ninth inning once with 50 relatives and friends in the stands. Also, pitched my first game in the majors (in Milwaukee) – a loss to Warren Spahn.

2. (Regarding Shibe Park) Terrible neighborhood, very dark, dreary atmosphere, and no parking facilities to speak of except one lot and on-street.

3. (His favorite win?) First one — in relief against New York Giants and Leo Durocher.”

Baseball is a game of irony. This career Philadelphia pitcher treasured memories not of Shibe Park, but his real “home” ballpark, County Stadium.

Marvin Freeman, former Phillies/Braves/Rockies pitcher, deserves a ‘do-over’ from collectors

 

Pitcher Marvin Freeman threw me a curve. A totally unexpected curve. (As in ‘called strike.’)

I contacted him via Twitter, asking two questions.

  1. Why are you a PastPros client?
  2. Why do you choose not to autograph your 1989 Donruss card?

I did get a response, I suppose.

“My business.”

He returned just two words. Sure, it could have been a bad day for him. However, Freeman missed a golden opportunity.

All he had to share was one URL:

https://www.marvinfreemanyouthfoundation.org

The former player is running a great program, started in 2018. His website describes the foundation as “…committed to making a positive impact in our community by raising funds to bridge the financial gap for low-income families.” Baseball is just one part of the foundation’s mission.

Marvin Freeman 1989 Donruss
Why is THIS CARD the one that Freeman chooses not to autograph?

Furthermore, if TTM collectors knew that Freeman used every dollar in autograph revenue for his foundation, who could complain that “Free” doesn’t sign for free?

PastPros, by the way, is one of a growing number of businesses that help former players deal with their fan mail. These middle-men vow to help you get your desired autographs on your items (as long as you pay their price.)

Regarding the second question, I’m unsure about Freeman’s non-signing policy on that Donruss card. In the past, I have found that retired players seem to favor one of the following answers about their autograph restrictions:

  1. (Pictured team) did not treat me well.
  2. I hate the picture on that card.
  3. That’s not me in the picture.

If your choice is none of the above, here’s your chance to set the record straight, sir. The floor is yours.

 

 

 

 

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