For a period of almost two years I mailed out baseballs to former Phillies and requested an autograph. I always enclosed a stamped, self-addressed padded envelope for the return mailing. I titled this endeavor "message in a bottle" because of the doubts I had about its probability of success.
I sent out almost 200 baseballs during that time frame. About 85% of them came back autographed. Another 5% came back unsigned for various reasons (or no reason). A bad address or no forwarding address was a recurring problem. A few demanded money for their signature. Dave Philley, for example, demanded $15, an amount I would have gladly sent had I known in advance. Alvin Dark sent me a brochure on his charitable foundation and advised me that he normally asks for a minimum $10 donation. He signed the ball anyway. I sent him a check.
A few balls came back with sad notations that the addressee was too sick or had recently passed away.
The remaining 10% never came back signed or otherwise. I always wondered what these guys did with the baseballs. Using various sources to obtain the baseballs, my average cost was about $7-8 each. I sent out approximately $150 worth of baseballs that never returned. But that's the price of sending out messages in a bottle.
What I didn't bargain for was the comments sent by the former players. I received some of the friendliest notes, especially from the older players. A wonderful man named Barney Mussill sent me photos, copies of telegrams and letters. One of Mussill's telegrams from 1948 was sent by Connie Mack himself. Other players sent me unsolicited memorabilia, which I have collected in a binder.
On a index card, Barney Mussill wrote above his signature: "Baseball friends are forever."
In tomorrow's blog, I will report on some of the comments from players who did not enjoy their tenure with the Phillies. Philadelphia's tradition of tough fans apparently goes back several generations. Earl Averill's anecdote from the early 1960's highlights classic Philadelphia behavior.