Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Baseball card stories from Larry Colton

Larry Colton pitched six seasons of professional baseball, including one major league game for the Phillies in 1968 before injuries ended his career. He has since gone on to a very successful writing career, with articles published in Esquire, Sports Illustrated and the New York Times Magazine, and five published books, including Counting Coup, which won the Frankfurt e-Book of the Year award and was nominated for a Pulitzer prize.

He kindly spent twenty minutes on the phone with me talking about baseball cards and collecting.

"I'm one of the only guys that’s been on more baseball cards than games played, two cards vs one game. I got hurt after first game that was end of my big league career.  Still one more than you! Keith Olbermann said that the leap from 0 to 1 is the hardest.
In '68 I had a good year in AAA. The Phillies had traded Jim Bunning because I was allegedly going to replace him. I shared a card with Dick Thoenen who also got only one game in the majors. Thoenen got called up because players were being called into the National Guard. No one went to Vietnam because big league teams made connections with National Guard units, and you would serve two weeks summer duty. Rick Wise was serving so they brought up Thoenen for two weeks.He was a reliever in the minor leagues. Relievers were not what they were now. Only starters would get called up. Minor league long reliever in the 60s were a ticket to nowhere. That was not the case for me. I was a starter but got hurt. Pete Rose was the first batter I faced in the big leagues. He got a double but didn’t score. I struck out two batters in two innings. Struck out a batter an inning - me and Sandy Koufax.

In '69 hey thought I would come back so they put me on another card, this time with Don Money, who played fifteen years in the big leagues.
In ’68 I didn’t keep the cards because I thought I would be in the big leagues for a long time. Not until the autographs started coming around that I was able to get them again.
I am always amazed and befuddled that I get so many autograph requests in the mail. It all comes from the book that publishes the addresses. I get a steady flow of requests even though I only played one game. 90% of the people have done no research on me. They don't know that I've written six books, and been nominated for a Pulitzer for Counting Coup. For that book, the publisher made oversized postcards as a marketing thing. They gave me 5000 of them. I write on it – "please read this book". I fold it over the card that I sign and return it to the sender. I've mailed out 2000 of them over the years. Not one single person has written me back. My conclusion is that baseball collectors don’t read.
Autograph collecting is a big business/hobby. I’ve always wanted to go and show up at the doors of the people who send me requests and say "Hi, I’m Larry Colton!" They will have no idea who I am. I've signed way more baseball cards than I have books, and I've sold a lot books.
I collected when I was a kid. I had a dice baseball game I invented that I wuold play with my buddy. The big league players would just be the ones for whom we had a baseball card. When we got a new player, Harvey Kuenn or whoever, we would add them to it.
My grandson collects football cards. On Sunday I walked by a place where they were having a yard sale and bought a box of cards. 500 cards for $2. I haven't given them to him yet - he's going to love them.
I also do teacher trainings on how to teach writing. One of my classes made a blown-up copy of my card and had it framed and gave it to me as a gift. It's sitting in my closet - it would be ostentatious to keep it in my living room.
My time as a ballplayer was so long ago and so alien to what I do now that some of the people I interact with now have no idea about my past and it is fun to spring a card on someone. I have two or three extras I’ve accumulated over the years. I gave one to each of my daughters."



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