ESPN published this wonderful story last week about a 14-year-old boy who wrote to his favorite NBA players and coaches to ask for their autographs. It brought back memories of my own 10-year-old self, writing away to baseball players to ask for their autographs.
I was a big baseball fan growing up. There wasn’t a Major League team in Oklahoma where I was, but we had the Tulsa Oilers, which was a St. Louis Cardinals farm club in my formative years. I liked the Cards, but the Yankees were my team because their games were televised every Saturday. (CBS owned them at the time.) Mantle, Maris, Berra, Ford; they were my heroes. (My first real baseball glove was a Jackie Robinson model; even as I didn’t know his history, he was a hero, too, because Robinson.)
I remember when my father suggested I write to them and ask for their autographs. I was excited by the thought that someone on television would read my letter, much less respond to it. And even then, I remember being skeptical about the whole thing. But hope springs eternal and I began writing to my favorite players; then branching out to players I liked OK, because why not? I don’t remember what I wrote; I was a dumb kid, and unlike the 14-year-old in the ESPN story, I don’t remember any adult helping me with the letter. (Collecting autographs has become a science now.)
But it got results. In addition to Musial (.331 career average and 7-time batting champion); and Spahn (383 wins); there’s Whitey Ford, (a 10-time all-star); and Rapid Robin Roberts (a 28-game winner).
The best, though, were the guys who wrote back something personal on a photo!!! I mean, I had to have Brooks Robinson (16 Gold Gloves) because he is a Robinson, and Sandy Koufax (youngest player elected to the Hall of Fame) because he’s Sandy friggin’ Koufax! They’re addressed to “Mike,” who is my older brother. When I was cleaning out my parents house and found all this stuff, somehow these collectibles never made it to New York City where he is.
I remember the excitement when one of my stamped, self-addressed envelopes appeared in the daily mail. When a larger envelope came from one of the teams, it was even more exciting because that meant that one of the photo cards was included. All that said, I don’t think I did anything with them. I don’t remember doing much more than opening the envelope, looking at the autograph, showing my best friend and sticking it in a desk drawer. Stupid as I was, I don’t even remember thinking it was cool that a Hall of Fame player took the time to write MY NAME. (For youngsters, it’s like LeBron James reading your tweet.)
For me, the thrill was in the chase. And now, the memories, not of the cards so much as of my dad and brother.