A look back: Phillies pitcher Pat Combs saluted announcers Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn

In this strangest of baseball seasons in my lifetime, I crave traditions. I want those soothing voices of friends on the radio. A former pitcher wrote back on this subject. He told me once that my admiration wasn’t misplaced.

Here’s a post from back in 2011:


When do you know you’ve made it? When do you feel like you belong?

I asked Philadelphia pitcher Pat Combs what his four-hitter versus the Cardinals during his 1989 rookie season meant. (Thanks http://www.retrosheet.org/ for the memories!) Combs wrote:

“The Cards game was great! What I most remember is that it proved to me how good my ‘stuff’ was. It showed me that good pitchers get hitters out. The key is to make good pitches.

My wife was in the stands that day.”

combsCombs should get extra credit for his final-month victories in 1989 and ’90. I pointed out that pitchers are facing September call-ups, guys without substantial scouting reports. By contrast, word spreads fast about how pitchers are pitching. Combs added:

“When I arrived in ’89, I had the same type of finish. I seemed to get stronger as the year progressed. The only attribution I could come up with is that my fitness level was extremely high. I would stay in great shape throughout the season, and simply outworked most of my peers.”

Two reasons that Combs remains memorable to Phillies fans are announcers Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn. What does the former pitcher cherish from these beloved voices?

“Harry K and Richie (Whitey) were great men. They so much enjoyed the game and the players. We could sit and talk for hours with them. Both were very kind and gentle men.”

After reading about Combs’ Christianity, I decided to end my letter with my favorite Biblical passage. Combs replied:

“Tom, yes, James 2:14-17 are great verses. We must always practice what we preach, and walk in the ways of our Lord Jesus. He showed us the Way!


Ex-Twins 3rd baseman Corey Koskie tells why he dislikes TTM autograph letters

Corey Koskie has an impressive baseball resume. His season highs of 26 homers and 103 RBI came in 2001. He sports a career batting average of .275 for a nine-year career.

That’s why I wince saying his current average is .153.

No, that’s not a batting average. It’s a through-the-mail average. I quote from the ever-amazing www.sportscollectors.net. I’ve been a proud member for YEARS.

One of the many features SCN offers is the ability for collectors to track their TTM

Corey Koskie
Spotted on TwinsTrivia.com. This website could be an all-day vacation for serious Twins fans.

attempts. The record says that 85 collectors have contacted Mr. Koskie by mail since 1999. Of those tries, 13 were successes. The last success came in 2011.

In other words, TTM collectors succeeded just 16 percent of the time getting an autograph from this member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

I wanted to know more. How does Corey Koskie feel about signing autographs by mail?

“To answer your question,” he wrote, “I don’t like it, for a couple of reasons. I don’t like stuff being mailed to my address. Secondly, I hardly get to the letters and open them. Too many bills to pay. (smiley face).”

I appreciate Mr. Koskie’s honesty. Save your stamps. Then, ponder this:

How many former players might sign, if they could keep fan mail separate from their personal, every-day mail.

Back in the 1990s, I spent some time with Al Kaline at a Portland card show.

I asked him if there was more than one way to reach him by mail for an autograph.

Kaline started counting on his fingers. Besides his home address, Kaline received mail sent in care of:

  1. The Tigers
  2. The station (he was a broadcaster then)
  3. The Hall of Fame

I smiled and said that was nice. His smile started to fade. Kaline told me his family used  bushel baskets to keep all the mail sorted. Kaline’s property tax almost didn’t get paid on time that year. The vital bill got lost in a sea of fan mail.

In his case, non-home addresses didn’t lighten Kaline’s TTM workload. Would retirees like Corey Koskie, however, appreciate the added privacy an “in care of” address might provide?

What do you think, readers?






Ask ex-players about COVID and the 2020 season in your baseball letters

I don’t know how I feel about the 2020 baseball season starting in one week.

Empty ballparks?

Artificial crowd noise?

Players and umpires sitting out the season over fears of COVID?

Aledmys Diaz
Houston utilityman Aledmys Diaz is one of a growing list of players planning to wear face masks during 2020 games. Diaz says the precaution is for his wife and children’s safety. How would former players respond to such a choice?

There are too many question marks for me to be all in for this mini-season.

If you’re unsure about the state of the 2020 season, say so in your baseball letters. Or, if you believe that baseball is still baseball, add that.

Here’s a hunch I’ll share. I think retirees can’t help but have strong feelings about the 2020 season.

Did the ex-player you’re writing to ever play in a game at an empty ballpark? What was it like?

If he was playing today, would they agree to play in this oddest of seasons? Why or why not?

Would this former player wear a face mask during games? Why or why not?

You get the idea. Cook up some questions of your own. Connecting today’s headlines to a retiree’s past career is unique and personal. Your letter will stand out.

Show the intended recipient of your letter that you are a true fan.  Your extra effort may bring bigger dividends in your mailbox soon.


Now-cheap July 4th patriotic stickers can boost your baseball letter efforts

“Stick” with me a bit, please.

I’ve never been an all-in shopper for discounted holiday items. Yes, those Halloween doodads marked down on November 1 could be useful again in 350 or so days. I suppose.

patriotic stickersHere’s one exception that always gets me excited. Check out the Fourth of July markdowns. Get yourself some red, white and blue stickers. Flags, stars, anything patriotic. Slap those stickers on your envelopes addressed to retired players NOW.

Use them year-round.

Decorate the envelope first. If you have leftovers, including leftover energy, include stickers on your letter. Remember, the world’s greatest letter can’t succeed if the intended ex-player doesn’t bother opening the envelope.

Your envelope will be swimming in a sea of mail. How does yours stand out? Why should your letter be opened first?

Seeing a couple of flag stickers on an envelope hints at your good character. The decoration shows that you made an extra effort. Try it!

Invest now in some patriotic stickers. Watch for a boost in your success rates this year.

Felipe Alou retraces his epic baseball journey in new memoir

Alou: My Baseball Journey

Felipe Alou, with Peter Kerasotis

293 pages

University of Nebraska Press, 2018


What a job resume! Anyone who’s ever applied for a job worries about those time gaps. As in: where were you were working from this date to that date?

Felipe Alou had none of those problems. Since signing as a player with the New York Giants in 1955, he stayed employed constantly through 2018. Best of all, all these jobs were in professional baseball.

That’s only one sense of Alou’s baseball journey.  The talented outfield prospect came out of poverty in the Dominican Republic, making his minor league debut in 1956. Alou inaugural season was overshadowed by the racism of the Deep South, however.  Fans peppered him with racist taunts, all “in that lilting Louisiana accent—a syrupy drawl, the sound and cadence of which have never left my ears.”

Alou’s eloquence runs through his memoir. He tells of early friendships with Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey. Cepeda and Roberto Clemente are praised as Alou’s batting muses. McCovey, meanwhile, encouraged Alou to stop buying and wearing cheap shoes for off the field. This author is grateful for many allies, and he shares the reasons why.

On September 10, 1963, Alou made major league history with brothers Jesus and Matty. The Giants outfield featured three brothers playing side by side. After two innings together with no consequence, reporters asked Felipe how he felt being one of three Alous on the field. “But mostly what I felt was an overwhelming sense of responsibility to look out for my younger brothers,” Alou recalled. “I was more concerned for them than anything else.”

Felipe Alou is a fine storyteller. He relates the tense relationship he endured with then-racist Alvin Dark, the Giants manager. Amazingly, they became friends after Alou’s career, thanks to their shared Christian faith.

The biggest surprise for me in the book was a revelation about son Moises Alou. Felipe got to manage his son with the Expos. Father Alou reveals a tidbit about Moises as a rookie: one of his son’s superstitions was to pee on his hands before a game, in hopes of gripping a bat better. Anyone getting an in-person autograph from Moises during those first years might think twice over their success.

One sentence in the book jumped out at me in the book. “…I believe it’s criminal to charge fans money to see pitchers hit.” Alou makes a strong case for why the National League should allow designated hitters, too. Noting that Alou spent his entire managerial career in the National League makes his feelings even more compelling.

Peter Kerasotis gets applause as an all-star co-author. Book projects require such assisting writers to be part hypnotist, part traffic cop and part cheerleader. Kerasotis extracted details aplenty from Alou, gleaning personal feelings to frame each notable moment. Alou’s book maintains a clear narrative path, moving through seasons with chronological ease.

Alou, now available in a new edition with an afterword by Bruce Bochy, is a worthwhile addition to baseball bookshelves.  Read Alou, and you’ll be thinking that you own exhibit A in the case to get him overdue Hall of Fame consideration.



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