The game of baseball has changed so much since World War II. During the early 1940’s, there were only 16 major league teams. The Negro Leagues were at the height of their popularity, yet there were no African Americans in the majors. There was no DH, no night games, no reserve clause. There were no major league teams on the West Coast. Players didn’t fly on a chartered jet; they rode the train. Big salaries didn’t dominate the game. In 1942, baseball’s biggest star, Ted Williams, made $35,000. Perhaps the one constant in the game is its fans and collectors.
I recently purchased several dozen handwritten letters of former baseball players. Wayne Ambler, Ed Moriarty, Jack Brewer, Waite Hoyt, and Warren Giles just to name a few. My favorite letter was from Thomas “Lefty” George.
Between 1911 and 1918, Lefty George played parts of four seasons for the St. Louis Browns, Cleveland Naps, Cincinnati Reds, and Boston Braves. Lefty’s major league career was short, but he did play alongside some infamous players such as Nap Lajoie, Rabbit Maranville, and Shoeless Joe Jackson. Lefty, however, will not be remembered for his short time in the bigs. His claim to fame will be his playing days in the minors where he notched an impressive 327 wins and sported a career 2.18 ERA. He won 20 or more games four times, 19 games twice, and pitched five no-hitters. He went on to become a local legend in York, PA where pitched 16 seasons for the York White Roses.
I’ve been collecting autographs through the mail since I was kid. I started when I was 10 and continued until I went off to college. After taking a break for several years while I was newly married and serving in the Army, I started again in 2005. It’s always a great feeling to come home to a full mailbox. Kids and grown men have been doing this for decades.
This Lefty George handwritten letter is in response to an autograph seeker named Henry C. West. Henry was a sergeant in the Army stationed at Erie Proving Ground in Ohio during WWII. The letter was written on Colonial Hotel (York, PA) letterhead. The letter is dated June 16, 1943, a time when Lefty was still pitching for the White Roses at age 56. That season he went 7-8. Written beautifully in fountain ink pen. The letter reads:
Dear West –
As to your request enclosed find autographs of myself, also Dutch Shesler. Hoping this will answer yours of the 14th.
With kindest personal regards, soldier
I am truly yours
T.E ‘Lefty’ George
Though the game has changed over the past seven decades, fans like Henry never ceased seeking out the athletes they admired. I wonder what became of those autographs Henry received nearly sixty-nine years ago.
Read more about Thomas “Lefty” George:
Full text of our correspondence. Click to enlarge.