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Post Pat Mears Writes to the Baseball--and Political--Greats
Created by John Eipper on 01/06/17 10:32 AM

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Pat Mears Writes to the Baseball--and Political--Greats (Patrick Mears, -Germany, 01/06/17 10:32 am)

This note responds to John E's request, placed at the bottom of Richard Hancock's letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (6 January), to start a WAIS thread on letters to our political representatives.

Before I approach that topic, some background is in order. When I was 10 years old or so, I developed an abiding love for our National Pastime and became fascinated with the history of the game. As I read more and more about old-time ballplayers, especially those in the "Dead-Ball Era," I realized, much like Larry Ritter realized when he undertook to write The Glory of Their Times, that these players were quickly passing away. It was sometime shortly after Ty Cobb died in the summer of 1961 that I decided to write to retired ballplayers and, among other things, ask them for their autographs. I undertook this pledge with a passion. The first letter that I wrote was one to Joe Garagiola (who recently passed on); he responded with one of the nicest letters a kid my age could receive. One problem was obtaining their addresses, and I finally discovered that the old Sporting News would provide their addresses on written request. So that got me started. I received some wonderful notes responding to my letters. The first and probably most valuable letter I received was from former Yankees' hurler, Bob Shawkey, who cautioned me to send self-addressed, stamped envelopes along with my letters. Otherwise, he warned, "they may just throw your request away." Fred Snodgrass of "Snodgrass Muff" fame wrote me a very kind letter, thanking me for remembering an old ballplayer like himself. Jackie Robinson sent me a signed Hall of Fame Plaque of himself with a note on the back. And even then-current ballplayers, like Duke Snider and Ted Kluszewski, sent back autographed photos of themselves. So that was my warmup for the Show.

I started writing to politicians in late 1960 after the election, when I wrote to Dwight Eisenhower, still in the White House, asking for his autograph. His secretary, Ann Whitman, responded with a nice note and enclosed an autographed photo of the 34th President. Similar letters sent at the same time produced an autographed photo of Richard Nixon and family and also an autographed card with JFK's signature thereon. Over time, these letters to active and retired politicos not only sought autographs but also contained my comments, as juvenile as they were, on national issues and the like. I received autographs from some interesting people like General MacArthur, Herbert Hoover, Alf Landon, Thomas Dewey, Henry Wallace, Norman Thomas, Dean Acheson, Adlai Stevenson, John Sparkman, Strom Thurmond, Henry Cabot Lodge, Barry Goldwater, Robert Kennedy and the like. Harry Truman failed to answer my letter, unfortunately. One long letter, which I sent to Richard Nixon after the 1964 election and while he was a lawyer with the Mudge, Rose Wall Street firm, resulted in an invitation to visit him at his NYC office, which I took up and mentioned here previously. As I became older, I corresponded with my then-Congressman, Donald W. Riegle, Jr., about the proposed ABM Treaty and other issues of the day. After Nixon was inaugurated in 1969, I wrote to him urging that he appoint William F. Buckley to SCOTUS, which was obviously a very naive wish. I received back a letter from some functionary, thanking me for my input and promising me that RMN would take my comments "into consideration."

I still have all of these letters and autographs back in my storage unit in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and from time to time think about those times when I doubled down with my pen and paper and a roll of 4-cent and later, 5-cent stamps to scribble out these missives. Thank you for asking, John, which triggered some fine memories.


PS: When my son and daughter were young, we would often make road trips in the summer to Chicago to Wrigley Field and old Comiskey Park for Cubs and Sox games. After attending with them a Cubs-Sox interleague game in the early 1990s, where the Sox players (at least) wore vintage uniforms, I began to write similar letters to surviving old-timers, asking for their autographs on behalf of my children. Most of them (other than Hall of Fame members, who realized their autographs had pecuniary value) responded with autographs and, sometimes, with very nice letters. I kept up correspondence with a few of them for some time--namely Dom DiMaggio, Dick Bartell and Vern Kennedy. In fact, Bartell and I came up with the idea in early-1990 that the Detroit Tigers should hold a ceremony for the surviving players from the 1940 team on the 50th anniversary of its American League championship. That year, the Bengals won the pennant with an amazing flourish, when an unknown pitcher from the hills of North Carolina, Floyd Giebell, shut out the Indians behind their all-star starter, Bob Feller. After extensive correspondence with the Tigers management urging the team to throw such a party, the Tigers declined to do so, writing to us that "some of those players can't even get into their uniforms any more." That comment rather annoyed Bartell, who was known as somewhat of a hothead in his day.

JE comments:  What a splendid collection!  Have you contemplated setting up a display of your letters and autographs, Pat?  Adrian College would certainly be interested in doing a temporary exhibit.

E-mail communication is handy but leaves no artifacts.  It's a pity.

PS:  Snodgrass Muff?  Please tell.

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  • The Snodgrass Muff, 1912 (Patrick Mears, -Germany 01/07/17 4:28 AM)
    To answer John E's question, Fred Snodgrass was the centerfielder for the New York Giants in the 1912 World Series against the Boston Red Sox. In the deciding game of that series, he dropped a routine fly ball in extra innings that ultimately cost the Giants the game and the Series. Here is the whole story from SABR (Society for American Baseball Research):


    The two main pitchers for Boston in this game, Smokey Joe Wood (who later managed at Yale) and Hugh Bedient, sent me nice notes and autographs when I was young. Fred Snodgrass was interviewed by Larry Ritter and was given a chapter in Ritter's The Glory of Their Times.

    JE comments:  Fred's father was Andrew Jackson Snodgrass.  These are the kinds of names you cannot make up.  Snodgrass fils was born in Ventura, California, in 1887, when Southern California was truly a backwater.

    Pat Mears has mentioned one of the great oral histories of all time:  Ritter's The Glory of Their Times (1966).  I'm going to read it.

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