By TOM TALBOT
Featured in Autograph April 2009
Being a modern day collector of baseball autographs can be a little frustrating. It seems like every “can’t miss” prospect has stopped signing for free once he makes it to the Bigs. And how many times have we heard “I’m not signing today—it’s just going on eBay.” Even the tried and true method of writing to players through the mail has become hit or miss. Sure, many of the hard-to-get guys will occasionally sign a stack of mail from spring training, but most of the time that’s just dumb luck.
As we approach another season of baseball, collectors can turn back the clock to a time before ballplayers “roided up” to get an edge, when many players worked a job in between seasons to make ends meet, and players were happy to sign a free autograph for their fans.
The long retired ballplayers are much more likely to sign their fan mail, either for free, or in exchange for making a donation to their favorite charity. Hall of Famers like Stan Musial and Robin Roberts never seem to get tired of autograph requests.
Regarded by most baseball enthusiasts as the “greatest living player,” Stan “The Man” Musial still loves his fans and rewards each letter with an authentic signed 4×6 photo. He also sends along a catalog of unique items sold through his company Stan the Man, Incorporated. Musial occasionally signs items mailed to him; I was able to get a St. Louis Cardinals hat and a baseball signed years ago. But most of the time he sends the signed postcard, which is reward enough from one of the true legends of the game.
Musial’s beautiful signature will highlight any baseball fan’s collection. Enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 1969, Musial was the Most Valuable Player three times, won seven batting titles with a career .331 batting average, and collected 3,630 hits and 475 homeruns. He played a major role in three World Series championships.
Another gracious Hall of Famer who signs his mail, The “Duke of Flatbush” put fear in the eyes of opposing pitchers, slugging 40 or more homeruns in five consecutive seasons. Also a great clutch hitter, he hit four homeruns in two different World Series. He was enshrined in Cooperstown in 1980 and continues to sign for fans from his home address. Sometimes he signs for free but most of the time he requests a fee of $5-$20. Snider has been inconsistent through the mail over the years. His 83rd birthday is in September, which is another reason to drop him a note.
Robin Roberts has a plaque at the Hall of Fame, too. His year of induction: 1976. This seven-time All Star selection had six 20-win seasons attributed to his pinpoint fastball. Like Snider, he is a great signer if you include a donation; his charity of choice is the Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.). $10-$15 usually does the trick, though he has been known to sign a few freebies.
Doerr is a 9-time All Star and probably the best through-the-mail signer of all time. A legendary Red Sox second baseman, Doerr is 90-years young and still providing autographs for the price of a stamp. His No. 1 has been retired by Boston.
Kell joined the exclusive Hall of Fame club in 1983 as a rock solid hitter and fielder. He was Mr. Consistent, batting more than .300, nine times in his career, leading the league six times in turning the double play. Kell has always been a friend to autograph collectors, signing for free. Many baseball stat geeks will tell you that Kell beat out Ted Williams for the American league batting title in 1949 by less than two ten-thousandths of a point.
Jim Kaat returned a sharp looking black-and-white I sent him last month, featuring him in the windup that won a franchise record 189 wins for the Minnesota Twins. An astounding fielder, he won 16 Gold Glove Awards. Kaat included an envelope requesting a donation to a memorial fund he set up to honor his late wife.
A Fenway Park favorite, many fans think he should be in the Hall of Fame. Tiant won more than 200 games and followed in the footsteps of his father who excelled in the Negro Leagues. He is a great signer both in person and through the mail.
Niekro’s knuckleball kept him in the Majors for an incredible 24 years. It also allowed him entry into the Hall of Fame, one of only three knuckleballers to be enshrined. Niekro will sign a card or picture for $10 and a ball for $15.
Rich “Goose” Gossage
The “Goose” isn’t free anymore since he entered the Hall in 2008, but he still signs for a nominal fee through the mail. He’s hands down the best-looking signature in all of baseball. In a 23-year career he had 20 saves an amazing 10 times, and twice reached 30 saves. Many collectors are having good luck “grabbing the Goose” for $10-$20.
Responsible for one of baseball’s all-time greatest moments, Thomson hit the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” on October 13, 1951. The New York Giants beat the Brooklyn Dodgers for the pennant off Thomson’s game-winning homerun in the bottom of the ninth inning. Thomson usually includes the date of the game with his signature and still signs for free.