'A wonderful time to be a kid': Readers share their autograph stories

My recent column about collecting retired athletes' autographs through the mail triggered happy memories for many readers.

Some were moved to share their tales of getting ballplayers' signatures on cardboard and cowhide.

Glen Ellyn resident Jan Waichunas recalled asking Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Billy Williams to sign a team lithograph.

"I sent letters to the players on the poster asking if I could send the poster to them," Waichunas said. "Billy Williams happens to live by me, so I asked if we could bring it over. He replied 'yes.'"

Waichunas took her kids and some home-baked cookies to Williams' house.

"He was so gracious," she said. "He took us into his basement and showed us his Hall of Fame memorabilia."

Unfortunately, the poster later was damaged in transit after being signed by Don Kessinger.

"I was able to get another copy of the lithograph and saw Don at a card show, at which he signed it again," Waichunas said.

Former Woodstock resident Jim Saska shared a tale of his autograph-hunting efforts in the late 1970s. He wrote to baseball Hall of Famers requesting signatures on index cards rather than trading cards.

Legendary pitchers Bob Feller and Warren Spahn were among those who obliged.

"I remember getting the player addresses through a book that was published by the hobby," said Saska, who now lives in Virginia. Collector Jack Smalling was known for putting together such a tome.

One of the former players to whom Saska wrote signed not just an index card but also an official National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum postcard depicting his plaque.

"That Hall of Famer was none other than local sports hero and all-around good guy Lou Boudreau," Saska said of the late Harvey native and former Cubs manager and broadcaster.

In less than five years, Rolling Meadows resident Janice Bouchard has amassed a collection of more than 3,000 autographed baseball cards. She stores them in binders organized by team.

"I hate to think of the postage I've already paid for this hobby. I just refuse to think about it," Bouchard said. "My friends all know that for my birthday and Christmas, I welcome gifts of stamps."

Bouchard is especially fond of cards featuring players doing something other than "just standing there with a bat."

"A big smile, blowing bubbles with gum, signing autographs in the stands," she said.

Widowed earlier this year, the 75-year-old Bouchard said her autograph quest keeps her busy. It also keeps Bouchard connected to a game she's loved nearly all her life.

"My husband would watch every Cub game with me, but he wasn't interested in the cards at all," she said. "He thought I was nuts, actually, and he might be right."

Retired Mount Prospect police officer Bill Roscop grew up near Wrigley Field and would collect autographs after games in the players' parking lot.

"It wasn't all secured like today. The players walked right past you to get there," said Roscop, a former Hawthorn Woods and Schaumburg resident who now lives in Florida. "I got all the 1967-1971 Cubs to sign the game programs. (Ron) Santo, Fergie (Jenkins), Ernie Banks and all the rest."

It was, as Roscop put it, "a wonderful time to be a kid."

Roscop no longer has those programs, but a baseball signed decades later by many of his favorite Cubs - including Williams and Kessinger - is a prized possession.

"The ball sits upon a shelf surrounded by less revered Cubbie bobble heads," Roscop said. "When I take it in my hands, I step back in time and hear (former announcer) Pat Pieper's voice calling the lineup over the P.A., smell the red hots and remember days when your only worry was school starting in September."

  Former White Sox pitcher Ross Baumgarten autographed these three cards. Russell Lissau/
  Former Bears wide receiver Brian Baschnagel signed these cards and sent a brief note. Russell Lissau/
Former White Sox pitcher Bert Roberge signed these three cards and wrote a note about his fan mail experiences. He estimated he receives between five and 20 autograph requests each week. Photo courtesy Bill Roscop Russell Lissau/rlissau@d
  Former New York Yankees pitching star Ron Guidry didn't charge a fee for signing this 1988 Score card. Russell Lissau/

Autograph project by the numbers

Here's an update on my progress.

<b>350: Autograph requests sent</b>313: Signed cards received

130: The number of former athletes - mostly baseball players - who returned signed cards

11: In days, the time taken for three cards autographed by former White Sox pitcher Ross Baumgarten to return

7: Trades with other TTM (through-the-mail) collectors

5 to 20: Autograph requests former White Sox pitcher Bert Roberge estimates he typically receives weekly. "I've signed them all and never charged," he said. "I've always felt it was part of being a professional athlete."

2: Cards signed by former Bears wide receiver Brian Baschnagel, who also sent a handwritten note

1: Cards signed by former Yankees pitcher Ron Guidry

- Russell Lissau

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