Thursday, April 17, 2014

Goodbye, Catcher Hal Smith

Hal Smith's obituary rekindled a happy memory for me.

Here's a couple of smiles the catcher shared in a 2010 letter. Cardinals fans, give this one another peek.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Hardball Passport Collects Ballpark Memories

Players get box scores. Why not fans, too?

Scorecards. Scorebook magazines. How do you keep track of all the memories of the games you've attended?

Peter Robert Casey has a winning game plan in Hardball Passport. He's developed web applications for baseball and basketball fans to track their game-going adventures. 

Peter has one cool past as a sports fan. Peter held community management and strategy roles with Team Epiphany [on the Nike Basketball account], Five-Star Basketball, and the New York Knicks, and spent five years on the brick-and-mortar side of community building at Columbia University’s Teachers College. 

In 2009, he became the first media-credentialed microblogger in college basketball history when I received a press pass to cover St. John's University men's basketball team exclusively via my personal Twitter account. 

I asked him for more details on the inspiration that's driven him to create such insightful, fun apps. He replied:

"Below are the answers to your great Qs and attached is a copy of a photo of me at the United Center. This past fall, I saw all 30 NBA teams play a home game in 30 straight nights. Story here:

30 baseball games in 30 days next?!?
I need to go back into the archives and find one of me at the ballpark.

Q: What memories do you savor most over the first-ever baseball game you attended?

While I can’t definitively say this was the first game I’ve ever attended, one of the earliest games I remember going to was a Yankees-Royals tilt in ‘88 or ‘89 at the old Yankees Stadium with my travel baseball team.

We sat in the cheap bleacher seats while Bo Jackson (K.C.) and Rickey Henderson (N.Y.) were playing left field, and we were yelling for their attention. It was a personal highlight when they turned around and acknowledged us.

The Yankees lost, but it was amazing to get to see one of my childhood heroes, Don Mattingly, play in person for the first time. And you can’t forget hearing Bob Sheppard’s iconic voice announcing his name when he came up to bat. I’ll never forget that.

Q: In your baseball fan career, what experience do you have with in-person or through-the-mail autographs?

A: One of my fondest memories as a kid was getting Lenny Dykstra’s autograph during a scheduled signing session at the local video rental store. Remember those?

I also met Rich “Goose” Gossage and James “Catfish” Hunter at the same baseball card show and got their signatures. Talk about a great pair of baseball nicknames. Unfortunately, I was never successful with yielding through-the-mail autographs, though I definitely purchased a player address book when I was eight or nine in the Kings Plaza Mall (Brooklyn, N.Y.).

Q: As you've perfected Hardball Passport, what kind of input or feedback have you gotten from current or former baseball players/staff?

A: Hardball Passport Travelers love to log their old games and get their personal stats: Total number of games attended, ballparks seen, best performances witnessed and teams’ records for games they were at. Also, the box scores are instrumental in enabling fans to relive their own memories of going to the ballpark with their friends or family. That kind of feedback makes me smile.

The iterative requests have also been consistent: Fans want to log Spring Training games, the World Baseball Classic and have even more personal stats: Total ERA when they’re at the ballpark, who’s hit the most home runs or had the most strikeouts. The feedback has been terrific and very helpful.

Q: How can this blog's readers learn more and stay informed about Hardball Passport?

A: Readers can learn more about Hardball Passport’s benefits and features here:, and can stay informed about updates by following us on Twitter: @hbpassport. But the best way to get addicted to Passport’s nostalgia is to create an account. It takes less than a minute. I hope they love it."

I do. And I hope that readers take Peter's cue to look deeper at the history they witness every time they head to the ballpark. It's not just "my team lost." There before you are 50 uniformed men living their dreams. Someday, some of them might be delighted to know you witnessed one of the best days of their lives.

That's Baseball By The Letters!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Player's Wife Imposes Autograph Fee?

I tip my cap to Jack Billingham. It's not the typical "now I charge for autographs" form letter.

After the traditional claim of finding his autographs being sold on eBay and elsewhere, the tone changes.

"I am all in favor of free enterprise and, in fact, encourage it. With this in mind, I hope you'll understand when I tell you my wife thinks this old ballplayer should get a little cut of the action."

Then, the former pitcher goes on to request $5 for signing your card, or $10 for an autographed photo or baseball. He thanks the senders (who gets back their unsigned cards) for their interest in baseball history.

Well, if the Billinghams are marketing autographs, I'd challenge them to give a free sample. At least, autograph the "send again, and include money" request. After all, my grocery store gives me a cheese cube on a toothpick before asking me to buy a pound of cheddar. 

Meanwhile, expect the "my mom threw out my baseball cards" jingle to be overshadowed by the "my wife's the one making me charge for autographs" refrain.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Hobbyists, Celebrate Anniversaries!

Baseball players love streaks. It's a game of numbers.

Looking back to contact retired players, don't forget the dates. Anniversaries. Timing makes the difference.

Today is my wedding anniversary.

Diana married baseball when she married me. My collecting, researching and writing all happens through her patience, encouragement and support. It's love in action. I am so grateful.

Thank your teammates, those who help make your pastime possible. More than once yearly helps!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

John Feinstein Unearths Bobby Valentine Autograph Legend In 'Where Nobody Knows Your Name' Book

Standing O for John Feinstein.

The acclaimed sports author has created an all-star effort in Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball (Doubleday, $26.95).

Without giggling about some editor's need to add "of Baseball" to the title, there's much to like about this book.

How does it feel to be a minor leaguer, either as a player, manager or even umpire?

Fans and collectors need to read this book to walk in those minor league shoes.

(I remembered a man who photographed lots of American Association players passing through Iowa in the early 1970s had pictures at an early card show. I asked why so many well-known veteran players weren't wearing their caps in the pictures.

"They don't want to be seen as minor leaguers," he explained.)

Feinstein captures this anywhere-but-here futility so well. While he looks at current minor league rosters for examples, the author found a minor league jewel in his digging.

Tommy Lasorda managed the 1970 Spokane farm team for the Dodgers. Bobby Valentine was a hotshot prospect called up in 1969. To put him in his place, Lasorda called a team meeting.

"First of all, I want you all to go and get Valentine's autograph," he said. "Because someday it'll be valuable to you when he's a star in the majors." 

Feinstein's book is filled with such gems of ego versus humility. His book shines new light on those rising and falling stars in the minor league sky. Give the title a call-up.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Autograph Collecting Game Plan For 2014 Season?

Happy Opening Day, everyone!

I'm trying to look more at corresponding with current players this season.

Who will be tops on your list?

For me, I've never dwelled on superstar players.

In selecting guys more likely to respond, I  ask myself:

1. Is this his first year with this team?
2. Where was he last year?  (Out of baseball or buried in the minors are two good answers. Chances are, at least for the first month of this season, that the player will be a happy-signing lump of gratitude, much like George Bailey in the final scene of It's A Wonderful Life.)

Now, put on your Grim Reaper cloak. Ask:

1. What are the chances he sticks on the roster all year?
2. Might this be his last pro season? (Think Miguel Tejada or Dontrelle Willis).

If the future is cloudy, don't wait. 

I'd think everyone loves their job in the majors right now. No one has been trapped in last place for weeks. Anything's possible, for their season and your mailbox.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio? The Future of Baseball-Related U.S. Postage Stamps

The USPS clerk showed me the newest commemoratives. 

"Here's a Jimi Hendrix stamp, if you're an old hippie!"

Sadly, he had no funny suggestions for an old baseball fan sending letters to retired players.

Everyone holds their breath for the next baseball stamp.

Want to do more than wish? Amazingly, it's possible to cast a vote.

The Citizen's Advisory Committee helps determine the Postal Service determine new subjects for future postage stamps. They meet four to five times yearly to look at the approximately 50,000 suggestions received yearly.

Check out their guidelines for subject selections. Send them a nomination.

(Not surprisingly, there's no e-mail address that I could find. If you want to suggest a baseball-related commemorative, it'll cost you 49 cents.)

Readers: what baseball-related subject matter would you like on your next postage stamps?