Tuesday, June 8, 2021

That time Tony Pérez mailed me his autograph

This is how I remember it...

Around 1983 I went through a short phase of mailing letters (plus a SASE, of course) to baseball players and asking them for their autograph. 

Not many responded. But in 1983, I wrote to Tony Pérez, who had signed with the Philadelphia Phillies that January to join what would become the National League champion Wheeze Kids.1

We moved from Pennsylvania to Florida that summer, so it must have been sometime in late spring or early summer when I received a reply in our Montoursville mailbox from the 41-year-old Pérez, who had 1,500+ career RBIs under his belt at that point. Inside the envelope was Pérez's autographed 1983 Donruss card, which still showed him as a member of the Boston Red Sox. (He had played for the Red Sox from 1980 through 1982. In those days, your baseball card almost always showed who you had played for in the previous season.)

This was an extremely cool thing for a kid to receive in the mail in 1983. A quarter-century later, it was still extremely cool when I would help Ashar write letters to his favorite Phillies — his letters were longer and nicer than anything I had ever written — and we'd get a slick photo back from Jimmy Rollins or Chase Utley or someone else from the 2008 World Champions. By that point, it had surely become a more streamlined system involving the Phillies' public relations department (and probably no necessary action on the player's part). Maybe that was the case in 1983, too. I'm pretty sure that's Pérez's actual autograph, but we can imagine that he just sat down once a month, signed a bunch of cards, and then let the PR interns do their thing and mail them out. 

Of course, in my 12-year-old mind, Tony read all of his mail, unfolded the SASE, tucked the signed card inside, licked the envelope and walked it over to the mailbox. 

A few years later — this part is hazier but let's say it was 1989 —  I discovered the magic of machines at the drug store that would laminate stuff for just a couple quarters. If it's laminated, it's FOREVER, I thought. And so, yes, I had my autographed Tony Perez baseball card laminated (along with a 1983 Fleer Wade Boggs, IIRC). This is, of course, a disastrous thing to do to a baseball card or any other ephemeral collectible. But Young Chris wasn't always the sharpest tool in the shed. 

Collectible-wise, the value of the Pérez card is now close to nil. But the upside, I reckon, is that I never intended to sell it, anyway. Tony Pérez mailed it to me! So I can be content that it's safe from spills and almost impossible to crease.


1. In 2013, Philadelphia Daily News columnist Stan Hochman wrote about the origin of Wheeze Kids as the moniker for the 1983 Phillies: "They were old. So many guys in their 40s. Old baseball guys creak when they run and they run a step slower. They make a whistling, tea-kettle sound when they go first to third or second to home. Wheeze Kids, that's what I nicknamed that 1983 Phillies team, and it stuck. A spinoff of Whiz Kids, the nickname for that swaggering, young Phillies bunch that won the pennant in 1950, only to get swept by the Yankees in the World Series. Throw enough mud at the wall and some of it sticks."

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