The Autograph Box

In the late 1940’s, a young sports fan decided to build an autograph collection. The process was simple, but effective, as he would send a self-addressed post card in an envelope with a note to the player (or team) asking them to sign the postcard and mail it back. In the days before eBay, auction houses and the marketing of autographs, athletes were happy to fill the request. The youngster would cut out the signature portion of the returned post card and tape it an album along with pictures and articles of the players. As he grew up, the collection began to include many signatures acquired in person at games and other events. The end result was a collection that included thousands of autographs from ballplayers of multiple generations.

That young boy from the 40’s passed away last year and his Wife asked me to assist in appraising – and eventually selling – autographs from the collection. The starting point were three binders from the beginning of the project that were completely disorganized…torn newspaper clippings, discolored tape, little loose remnants of 70 year-old post cards with signatures of long-forgotten athletes. Looking through the first binder, however, caused this old baseball fan to stop and stare. In my hands were the signatures of Hall of Famers such as Pepper Martin, Carl Hubbell, Paul Waner & others. Were they in nice condition? Absolutely not! Were they genuine? Even though independent authentication would be necessary, there was no doubt that they were real. In other binders/albums, players like Cy Young, Jimmie Foxx, Ty Cobb & Tris Speaker also appeared.

Now, almost a year later, over 150 autographs have been sold to collectors all across the country. It has been a pains-taking process, including 3rd party authentication of each signature along with marketing the items on eBay, but the project has been more fun than you can imagine for a baseball historian like me. And, of course, let’s not forget that my client is very happy with the results.

That young sports fan didn’t stop collecting as he became an adult. In addition to all those albums & binders from the 50’s & 60’s, he also collected autographs on post cards during the 1970’s. One shoe box has hundreds of them and even though they probably aren’t valuable enough to authenticate, they will certainly jog the memory of fans from that era. For this visit, I’ll randomly grab a handful of these signatures and let’s see if you remember some of the players…

  • Lee Stanton – An AL Outfielder for nine seasons, he had his best years with the Angels…in 1975, he had 14 HR’s, 82 RBI’s and 18 SB’s.
  • Tug McGraw – One of the best Closers of the era, he pitched for 19 seasons with the Mets & Phillies…posted 180 Saves and won two World Series rings.
  • Gates Brown – This Tigers Outfielder played 13 seasons with the Bengals and was part of their 1968 championship team. The signature is from his last season…1975.
  • Jim Barr – A member of the Giants rotation during most of the 70’s, he had 101 lifetime Wins…pitched over 230 innings in five different seasons.
  • Nelson “Nellie” Briles – Debuted as a Cardinal in 1965 and pitched 14 seasons with 129 Wins…after being traded to the Pirates in ’71, he pitched a 2-hit shutout in the World Series.
  • Rick Miller – This speedy Outfielder played 15 years in the majors, 12 of them with the Red Sox…won a Gold Glove in 1978.
  • Woodie Fryman – This left-hander pitched for 18 seasons and accumulated 141 Wins…made the NL All-Star team with both the Pirates & Expos.
  • Jim Sundberg – Played 16 years and was one of the best Catchers in the game during the late 70’s and early 80’s…won six consecutive Gold Gloves from 1976-81.
  • Doyle Alexander – Won 194 games in 19 seasons…in August of 1987, the Braves traded him to the Tigers where he went 9-0 down the stretch…the player going to the Braves was an obscure minor leaguer named John Smoltz.
  • Dan Ford – “Disco Dan” was an AL Outfielder for 11 seasons and hit 121 HR’s…his best stat line was for the Angels in ’79 when he hit .290 with 21 HR’s and 101 RBI’s.
  • Fritz Peterson & Mike Kekich – Peterson pitched 11 seasons (including 20 Wins in 1970), while Kekich was a big-leaguer for nine years…they are best remembered for swapping wives and children during Spring Training in 1973.

There’s the first dozen from the autograph box…hope you enjoyed the visit.

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