Thursday, March 21, 2013

Autographs: A Short How-To Manual (Part 2)

Part two: The Russian Postal System blows

You’re still here? Geez man, you’re supposed to be out hounding. I gave you all that good advice and you’re still sitting on your duff, wasting time at the computer.

Oh, right. No teams within a two-hour radius. I feel your pain, as I have the same problem here.
Not all of us can be so blessed as to have a 15-minute walk or 5-minute subway or bus ride to get autographs. Many people live an hour or more away from the nearest team. Some of us live on a dental floss farm in rural Montana and have no major league teams within 700 miles in any direction. The two-hour drives to Dallas and Oklahoma City when I was in Wichita Falls don’t seem so bad now that I see Montana on the map.

For those of us who can’t just go hound, the US Postal Service (or Canada Post, or insert your country here) make it possible to get autographs by writing to your favorite athletes. You don’t get the same interaction, and it can be hard to get certain items signed, but in the end, you’re still getting your autograph.

And so, another brief bit of info– how to get the most out of your mailing experience.

1. Know Your Addresses
Team addresses are easy to find. Just check out a league’s website, and the mailing address for every team should be there. Home addresses are a little tougher to dig up. I went out and spent a good chunk of change to get Harvey Meiselman’s Address Lists in 2007, but they’re honestly worth every penny. As a warning, some teams do not usually give mail to players. In hockey, these teams are the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils, Colorado Avalanche, Philadelphia Flyers, and Washington Capitals. The latter three will give mail to players if you send via their practice facilities. Addresses for those can be found on a simple Google search. Home addresses can be found other ways, but I’ll leave this up to you to find. There are a lot of sites out there that can help you. Even SCF and The Bench both have a heck of an address database.

2. The Letter
If writing to multiple players on one team, send individual letters, not just a bulk mailing with every player in it. Make the letter you write as personal as you can. Just a simple “Sign these please” will probably end up with your items being sent back unsigned, if they even get sent back at all. If you can, write the letter by hand. Include some personal items about the player, such as congratulations on a recent milestone, or a good-luck wish for the playoffs, or best wishes for coming back from an injury. Make them know you’re not just some schmoe looking to get a free autograph that you can turn around and sell. Typing the letter works, but some collectors believe you’ll more than likely get better autographs, faster response times, and even specific requests you make fulfilled by writing by hand. I haven’t noticed a difference myself. Just make sure your handwriting is legible!

3. Send Something to Get Signed
Again, it seems obvious, doesn’t it? Via mail, cards, photos, and small items work best. Baseballs, pucks, and mini-helmets are possibilities in that vein. Avoid sending jerseys, sticks, bats, big balls (yeah yeah, ha ha, laugh it up; I mean like footballs and basketballs), or anything requiring special packaging. Usually I send a few cards. You can send usually up to about 5 in individual penny sleeves for the price of only one stamp. By the way, don’t send too many items, either. The most I ever send is 5 cards. Often, I put cards in sleeves, put a couple index cards around them to protect them a bit more, and send. Sometimes the player might sign the index cards, too, which is a fun and easy bonus. Again, do your homework. If you see a player signs one item per person, don’t send three. If they signed 8 for someone (a collecting practice I do not condone via mail), don’t hesitate to go for 4 or 5. And don’t send anything you can’t afford to lose. Don’t send an Alexander Ovechkin rookie card to get signed (I learned that the hard way; fortunately I had two of it, so I had one to fall back on) because there’s a good chance you’ll never see it again unless the player has a good track record of signing. And even then, some unscrupulous assistant might switch out the card with a different one and keep your awesome one.  I had that happen a few weeks back with a Daniel Hudson jersey card.  He's a good signer, but someone swapped out my jersey card for a base common.

4. Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope
Make sure you enclose one! And make sure it has proper postage. If you don’t enclose an easy way to get your signed items back, you may never get them back. Convenience for the player is the key here: the less the player has to do, the better your results will be. Make it easy for them, and you’ll be much better off and have more success.

5. Postage
Like I said, make sure you have proper postage. A simple 45-cent stamp will get your letter anywhere you want in the USA, but check with the Post Office for letters to Canada or elsewhere around the world. If worst comes to worst, enclose a dollar with your request to cover postage back from the player to you. Or, if your local post office has them, get an international reply coupon. Don’t bother with them in Russia, though. In fact, don’t bother sending anything to Russia for the most part. I’ve seen a success rate around 15% for others in sending to players there. I haven’t tried it. I have personally had success to hockey players in Slovakia and Sweden. I have also seen several successes for various sports in Germany, England, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Japan, Spain, France, Italy, Czech Republic, and Finland.  It might also be smart to put a little extra postage on just to be safe.  If the going rate is 45 cents, it might be prudent to make it 48 or 50.  Of course, if you use Forever stamps for any domestic mailing, then you have nothing to worry about.

6. E-mail is a possibility for some!
Some players have widely-publicized e-mail addresses that they’ll sign through. Georges Laraque and Ken Dryden are two at the top of the list who are worth trying. Just send a similar letter to if you were writing via mail, ask if they might send a signed photo or something of the like, and make sure you enclose your mailing address. Laraque also doesn’t mind shooting the breeze with fans, as far as I can tell. Back when the Penguins acquired him, I e-mailed welcoming him to the team and reminding him that Donald Brashear and the Capitals were on the schedule in the next few weeks. I got a response thanking me and lol’ing at the reminder about Brashear.

So there you have it. I think I’ve covered everything there is to know about autograph collecting. Or at least everything I know and can remember off the top of my head. It’s a fun hobby to get into and is decently cheap as long as you just send cards. Think about it this way– for $45, you can get a roll of 100 stamps. That’s 50 requests. My success rate has been about 60%– roughly 30 of 50. If you send 3 cards per player (some more, some less, but average 3), that’s 90 cards you just got signed for a very small investment. It also helps if your significant other is very understanding, as this hobby gets addictive very quickly. At least it’s legal and non-harmful.

Have fun, may your mailboxes be full, and may your 9-boards be finished!

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