Another vote for hand-written letters?

In the heat of presidential primary season, a vote may have been cast for tradition.

I’ve enjoyed the epic story of Tigers minor leaguer Bobby Hoeft. His book and his Detroit Tigers quarterly newsletter would delight any fan.

One off-hand comment of his caught my eye. Bobby keeps creating “hard” copies of his newsletter, not just posting news online. I realize that he has dozens of former Tigers as subscribers. He mentioned that most aren’t computer users.

“Oh yes — regarding seniors with no computers…I speak for myself when I say it took me up to 2007 before I took them on…To some extent, just give a retired baseball star another pain in the ass…I admit it was only because of my intense typing etc that I was talked into it…but guys like Virgil Trucks, J.W. Porter, Frank Tanana and on and on view it with, “At my age why take on this new technology…I’m happy with my life just the way it is.”

Bobby’s comment sent me thinking. Kohei Nirengi mentioned about Japanese tradition favoring hand-written letters. I maintain that forcing any age person to study my handwriting is cruel and unusual punishment.

Nonetheless, are some elderly ex-players frowning at our computer printout letters, skeptical at how little personal effort went into the correspondence? Do these cyber-shy folk think our magic boxes have cranked out well-disguised, robotic form letters?

When possible, I add a hand-written P.S. That way, the potential signer knows I’ve tried…and that I’ve spared him the pain of a whole page of my scribbles!

Coming Thursday: Tom’s “10 Most Wanted List” — a Hot Stove League edition!

Coaches With No MLB Playing Experience Are Autographs Worth Collecting; Hope Is Coming!

Al Vincent: Never a day as
an MLB player. But the
coach was a HOF storyteller!

This week, baseball address king Harvey Meiselman posted some hopeful news on http://www.sportscollectors.net/.

Harvey is listening to collector wishes. He noted more than one request for including coaches in next year’s Baseball Address List.

Aren’t all coaches? Only those with at least a game of major league playing experience. A former player who found a second career coaching will be still be listed in the main section. He’s continued to recognize these men in the List by noting their playing debut dates.

Harvey is talking about having a supplemental section as part of the list just for these coaches without a day of MLB playing time. He cited Cincinnati’s Mark Berry as an example.

Harvey estimated that he’d need to invest 70-100 hours of labor to find all the living coaches from this unique category of baseball history. Think Mike Quade, before he became Cubs manager.

I learned what rich sources of history these forgotten men are when I wrote Remember When: A Nostalgic Look at America’s National Pastime (Metrobooks, 1996). I tracked down career minor leaguer Albert Linder Vincent, who joined the Detroit coaching staff in 1943.

Vincent wrote me a multi-page letter telling about his career. In 1938, as a Texas League manager, he had his batters wear football helmets for 5 innings (years before the majors adopted batting helmets). Baltimore’s use of an oversized catching mitt to handle future Hall of Fame knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm? It wasn’t manager Paul Richards with this brainstorm, but Vincent.

The partial list of players he coached in the minors is impressive: Dizzy Trout, Virgil Trucks, Hal Newhouser, Fred Hutchinson, Wally Post, Joe Adcock, Alex Grammas, Joe Nuxhall. Future managers Danny Ozark and Mayo Smith played for Vincent.

Vincent added, “You would have to ask them if they were aided by my efforts.” Seeing the many winning teams he led, I know the answer.

Vincent wrote me: “Coaches are non-entities by and large, and lose their identity in the job, the exception being an established star giving a coach credit. It happens, but all too seldom.”

He died in 2000. I want to give all the Al Vincents credit. I want to write to them all. Please, Harvey. Help us find them, while there’s still time to save these stories.

Virgil Trucks Getting Alabama Recognition!

The same signature remains! Is Virgil covering
first base in spring training?

And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown and in his own house is a prophet without honor.”

— Mathew 13:57 (NIV)

I have a bit of good news about Virgil Trucks, an update of the June 15 post, “Alabama Hometown Needs Virgil Trucks.”

The “Welcome To Calera” sign is supposed to be redone this year. Virgil’s name will be added.

However, a Calera Chamber of Commerce representative seemed a bit perplexed when I asked why NASCAR driver Hut Stricklin (who has since moved) was recognized, but not Virgil Trucks.

Answer: only one man is FROM Calera.

I think being a native son is overrated. Virgil Trucks, born in nearby Birmingham in 1917, CHOSE Calera. He’s still living in Calera. Two reasons I’d move his name to the top of any sign.

I found little consolation upon hearing the Chamber rep say that the Calera Historical Society would be meeting in July, and that would be a good time to mention Mr. Trucks.

Virgil Trucks is LIVING history. Celebrate him NOW.

For years, I lived in Marshalltown, Iowa. Cubs fans who read my published work would call or send e-mail. Since I lived in the birthplace of baseball Hall of Famer Cap Anson, fans asked: what landmarks were there to visit? I could have told them I once lived on Anson Street, played in Anson Park and attended Anson School.

Trouble is, all were named after town founder Henry Anson, Cap’s father.

Yes, clouds of racism overshadow Anson’s legacy. Nonetheless, the people wanted to come. I imagined the cash-strapped public school system selling tons of clothes for a renamed “Cap Anson School.” I asked local leaders to consider all the history, to address ALL of Cap’s behavior — the good, bad and the historically-influenced. (Was he more hateful than others, or did newspapers simply listen more to Anson because he was famous?)

I begged Marshalltown to do something. Do anything!

No way. Too controversial. Status quo, please.

Virgil Trucks would be a joy to promote, compared to Anson, the 19th century version of Billy Martin. Let’s hope Calera agrees while the Trucks family can still enjoy the well-deserved accolades.

Coming Friday: meet young collector and Negro Leagues booster Cam Perron

Virgil Trucks Shares Autograph Blessings

Look up “Southern Gentleman” in the dictionary. In my volume, there’s a picture of pitcher Virgil Trucks.

As someone who grew up during the Great Depression, Trucks knows the value of kindness. “Some people could pay. Some couldn’t. How would I know who could afford it? It’s best to sign for everyone. To stop signing? That would not be the proper thing to do.”

Even at age 94, Trucks seems anything but retired, considering that he’s getting 10 to 20 letters a day to answer. “I live in a rural area, but the mail carrier brings it all to my front door. I’ve been getting a lot of baseballs to sign.”

He tells of scrapbooks assembled with correspondence from fans and collectors. We collect his autograph. Trucks collects our words. “I’ve had letters from everywhere, even Japan and England. I’ve kept so many of them.”

Currently, Trucks is out of copies of the autobiography book he’s sold. Will he authorize another edition? It seems that he’ll let the fans decide.

Trucks chuckled and thanked me when I repeated someone’s praise first aired on the http://www.sportscollectors.net/ forum. This collector called Trucks “the Babe Ruth of autograph signers.”

When I told him that most collectors take pains to show proper by-mail etiquette, Trucks noted that some kids still don’t send a SASE. “I write them back. I sign. But I remind them to send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to others if they’re going to be collectors. I know other players would throw away the letter without a return envelope. They head straight for the trash.”

The former pitcher paused when I asked about grateful collectors. Discussion has surfaced over how the hobby could shows its collective thanks for Trucks’ decades of signing. If someone wanted to send him money for thanks? Maybe a favorite charity to help?
“Any money I get [from collectors] goes to my church, Amazing Grace Worship Church. At church, they have a place to mark [on the tithe envelope] for ‘unexpected money.’ That’s what I call it [the donations].”

Giving. Rewarding fans. Trucks can’t imagine being anyone else. “I’ve always been this way. I always signed for everyone, even during my career. After a game at the ballpark, or outside the hotel, you could have 100 kids waiting — especially in New York.

Even out of uniform, they still knew you. I tried saying once, ‘I’m not a player.’ Everyone piped up, ‘You’re Virgil Trucks!'”

At the end of our conversation, I thanked the hobby legend once more for all the autographs.

“It’s my pleasure,” he said. “As long as I’m able, I’ll keep signing.”

Coming Tuesday: A Visit With Virgil Trucks

Even at age 94, Virgil Trucks strives for all-star
penmanship. This image comes courtesy of William
Regenthal and his “Foul Bunt” blog. Check out
the fine interview William did with “Fire.”

Happy Memorial Day, everyone.

I wanted to salute a World War II veteran and a truly memorable person — Virgil Trucks.

Drop by tomorrow (Tuesday) for a conversation about autographs. Fans have been seeking his signature for 60 years now. Find out why he remains a hero of the hobby. Want to reward Mr. Trucks for his autograph? He tells how.

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