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An Heirloom for the Ages: Books Filled With Old MLB Players’ Autographs

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As you know, I periodically partner with Grey Flannel Auctions in a program called What’s It Worth?, where we invite Uni Watch readers to submit their potentially valuable sports collectibles for free appraisals.

One person who responded to our most recent call for submissions was longtime reader Bill Kellick, who sent in photos of something very, very special. He didn’t want to put it up for auction (you’ll understand why once you see what it is), but he agreed to write about it for Uni Watch. I’ll hand the mic to him now.

My Father’s MLB Autograph Collection

By Bill Kellick

My father, who was born in 1923, grew up as a baseball fan, spurred on by his baseball-loving grandfather and uncle. From 1935 through 1938, he acquired each yearly edition of the baseball bible of the day, the hardcover Who’s Who in the Major Leagues, by Harold (Speed) Johnson . Who’s Who was an annual treasure trove of baseball information, complete with biographies and statistics for every player, coach, and team official. The bios themselves were little works of art, like this one for Cubs catcher Gabby Hartnett:

The bios sometimes included the players’ mailing addresses — unthinkable in today’s world — so my father wrote letters to numerous ballplayers. Many of them wrote back, usually with a nice, cordial letter. My father would then cut out the player’s signature and paste it in his copy of Who’s Who, often next to the player’s bio and usually accompanied by the date of the autograph. Here are some examples:

Leo Durocher’s autograph.
Augie Galan’s autograph.
Rogers Hornsby’s autograph.

My father also put the autographs in other places throughout the Who’s Who volumes, sometimes creating a scrapbook effect, as seen in these next several pages:

Autographs for future Hall of Famers Bill Dickey (my dad’s favorite player) and Lefty Gomez.
Future Hall of Famers Joe “Ducky” Medwick and Carl Hubbell are among the signatures on this page.
Future Hall of Famer Chief Bender sent back a signed business card, so my father pasted that into the book.
This page includes autographs from Cy Young (lower right) and George Wright (center left), who was a member of the first professional baseball team, the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings.
This page includes nice notes from Yankees infielder and future Hall of Famer Joe Gordon, and from Phillies coach Hans Lobert.
Rabbit Maranville and Sal Maglie are among those represented on this page.
Autographs and notes from Hall of Famers Ted Lyons and Tony Lazzeri.
On this page we find future Hall of Famers Walter Johnson, Tris Speaker, and Bob Feller.

My father also kept many of the original letters and the envelopes they came in, which show an array of hotel envelopes and stationery:

Letter from Cy Young.
Letter from Eppa Rixey.
Letter from George Davis.
Letter and envelope from knuckleball pioneer Eddie Rommell.
Envelope from “Tris Speaker Inc.”
Letter from Rogers Hornsby, who was disappointed that my dad wouldn’t be attending his baseball “college.”
Envelope and business card for Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, which was home to both the Cardinals and Browns at the time.

My father passed away in 2002. From the late 1980s until his passing, we would bond over baseball by playing Strat-O-Matic, with him managing teams like the 1927 Yankees or 1934 Cardinals against my modern-day clubs. This was how I learned a lot more about the players of the past and his recollections of them. This led me to become more interested in his autograph books, which I inherited upon his passing.

Although I have no intention of selling the books, it was interesting to have them appraised. Here’s what Michael Russek of Grey Flannel Auctions had to say about them:

WOW! Very impressive collection of baseball autographs here. My favorite part is that it was your father’s and the work that he put into it.

George Wright, Cy Young, Walter Johnson, and Chief Bender are the most collectible in the autograph market and much of the value lies in their signatures.

How they were obtained is great but some are inscribed to your father and others look like they may have some condition issues with how they were applied/secured to the pages. That said, if all are authenticated, a conservative pre-sale auction estimate would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $4,000 to $8,000.

———

Paul here. Is that an amazing family heirloom or what? Such an incredible thing to have!

Although not related to Who’s Who or autographs, Bill’s father also kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings that included some great baseball cartoons from the day:

I loved looking at all this old ephemera, and I’m sure you folks did as well. Please join me in thanking Bill for sharing these treasures with us.


 

Simple Pleasures

I realize that the Colts’ throwbacks, which they wore last night against the Steelers, are almost the same as their primary home uni, so it may seem like a case of “What’s the point?” But hot damn, those triple-striped socks — that’s the point, at least for me.

There was also some striped hosiery on the Pittsburgh side of the ball last night, as Steelers wideout George Pickens took it upon himself to add sock striping to the team’s look:

At least Pickens’ sock stripes were in a Steelers color, which is more than we can say for his light-blue shoelaces. What was that about, I wonder?


 

Giving Tuesday

Today is Giving Tuesday. If you have the means, I hope you’ll be donating, as I will be, to worthy causes and organizations whose missions matter to you.

If you have anything left over after those donations, I hope you’ll also consider supporting Uni Watch. To be clear, Uni Watch is neither a charity nor a nonprofit. But I do think it’s a pretty special project, and I know many of you feel the same way. As the online ad market continues its precipitous decline, Uni Watch and I are increasingly dependent on reader support in order to keep this enterprise afloat. So again, if you have the means, I ask that you please considering either subscribing to my Premium content on Substack or signing up for Uni Watch Plus — or, ideally, both.

Thanks for listening — much appreciated.


 

Broncos, AMA Reminders

In case you missed it last week, here are two reminders for you:

  • First, I’m now taking entries for our latest design challenge, which is to redesign the Denver Broncos. The deadline is Friday, Dec. 2. Full details here.
  • Also, my next quarterly installment of “Ask Me Anything” — the bit where you can ask me anything about uniforms, sports, myself, or anything else, and I do my best to answer — will be coming up next month on Substack. If you’d like to submit a question, feel free to email it here. (Please note that this is not the usual Uni Watch email address.) One question per person, please. I look forward to seeing your queries!

 

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Comments (18)

    Natural to ask about its value, but the realities of the collectibles market (as reflected in the appraiser’s comments) take some of the joy out of the experience. Autographs personalized for Dad that were pasted to the page are part of the charm of Bill’s collection.

    Oh, for sure — sentimental value beats monetary value! But since the appraisal process was how this came to my attention in the first place, I thought it made sense to include that info. Apologies if it was a bit of a buzzkill.

    No apologies needed, Paul. No buzzkill. Understand that it was part of the story. Enjoyed the piece.

    I love the elegant penmanship of all the signers! (Says one with not-so-elegant penmanship!) Reminds me of the story about former Twin Michael Cuddyer being taken to task by none other than Harmon Killebrew about his autographs. Harmon (who had a beautiful signature) inspired Michael to make his autograph Harmon-approved.

    Wow. That’s an absolute museum piece! One thing I can’t help but notice is that the players of those days actually wrote each letter of their names, many of them beautifully so. I miss that. I miss seeing an autograph and knowing who signed it.

    Not to be too stalkerish, but I looked up Gabby Hartnett’s address on Google Maps just to see what kind of house a 1930’s major leaguer lived in. Very modest by today’s standards obviously. I wonder of the current occupants realize that a big league ball player lived there. Pretty cool article.

    It should be kept in the family ofcourse, but should an inheritor in the far away future decide to get rid of these baseball treasures, then this collection should be donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame. As it is a reminder of the importance of baseball to Americans during that era. Wonderful to read this article.

    That’s an amazing scrapbook! And to get George Wright’s autograph (supposedly the last living member of the first all-professional team) just a year before he died!

    I’m surprised at how many players used hotel stationery. Were they signing for fans during idle moments on road trips?

    I myself have one autograph, obtained like Bill’s, that I’m going to hold on to forever. Back in the 1990s, Chester “Red” Hoff became famous as the oldest living baseball player, in his early 100s. I wanted to write to him, and as I was thinking about it, I broke my wrist playing baseball.

    Thinking that I’d regret it forever if he died before I could get in touch, I wrote to him anyway, using my other hand, and somehow drew a picture of him striking Ty Cobb out in one of his early games; supposedly his happiest memory from the major leagues. I also included a self-addressed stamped envelope.

    After I sent it, the postal rates went up, so I gave up on hearing from him, but he wrote back to me and it was delivered somehow! He sent my drawing back, signed with his name and “1911”. I was so happy to hear from him!

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