One of my favorite things to do as a boy was to sit in my grandfather’s chair inside his home office and read his fan mail. He received fan mail every week until the day he died in 1996. They were usually blank 3×5 cards or a post card sized portrait with the request to have it signed by the man who replaced the legendary Lou Gehrig. But every so often, there’d be an actual letter on lined paper (sometimes 2-3 pages) that recounted a particular hit, a dazzling play around first base or even an exchange between them like, “I remember the time you said hello to me outside the stadium. I’ll never forget it.” These were memories seared into that particular person’s mind who simply wanted to share it with the man who stoked the initial flame. And at the end of the letter, almost apologetically, they’d ask for an autograph stating that it would mean the world to them.
These were true fans and my grandfather took great pride in responding to every letter.
Since the inception of the game, young boys and girls have written letters to their favorite ball players – letters that would find their way into the lockers of men larger than life. And when time permitted, these flannel clad fellows would try to uphold their duty as role models and write a pithy response or sign a photo.
And if these kids were lucky, a faceless mail carrier somewhere in a rural town or big city would stuff their mailbox with a return envelope making them feel very special, like 15-year-old Roger Barry from Weymouth, Mass must have felt.
A few years ago, while searching on eBay, I found three letters for sale that my grandfather had written to Barry in 1935. Given my passion for reading his fan mail (letters written to him) I jumped at the chance to read something he wrote to a fan. I bid on the letters and now own them. Two of the letters were written during spring training on stationery from the Hotel Sarasota Terrace. The other one was written from the Myles Standish Hotel in Boston shortly after the club came home to play a series against Babe Ruth and the Braves before traveling to New York to start the season.
After much success in the Pacific Coast League, the Boston writers were talking about the good-looking young kid named Babe Dahlgren from San Francisco who was stepping into the first base position for the Red Sox. Upon reading the letters, it became apparent that young Roger Barry must have been a first baseman himself and was hoping Boston’s rookie first sacker might offer some tips. My grandfather’s letters were full of advice on how to play the bag, select a bat and even shared his thoughts on the attitude a young player needed to have. I felt good knowing that my grandfather took the time to write such detailed letters to a young kid who looked up to him – something I watched him do in his later years from his desk at home. I realized after reading these letters that Babe Dahlgren was no different at 22 than he was at 84 when he passed away – he loved talking about baseball and helping young kids anyway he could.
Below are the three letters my grandfather wrote to Roger Barry in 1935.
The letters inspired me to look-up Roger Barry. It led me to an obituary that was written by Dick Trust of the Patriot Ledger in 2012 after Barry had passed away at the age of 92. Roger Barry had been a sportswriter spanning five decades for the Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Massachusetts and was loved by everyone who ever knew him. He had a passion for golf, and was the president of the Golf Writers Association of America for many years. He was even on a first name basis with Palmer and Nicklaus. But there was one line in particular that Dick Trust wrote that stood out. It read: Roger spoke to little guys like me and giants of the sports world like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player.
…Spoke to little guys.
I can’t help but wonder if the thoughtful letters my grandfather sent to Roger Barry when he was a “little guy” had a small part in nurturing his love of sports and shaping the writer and man he’d one day become.
Roger Barry’s obituary from 2012 can be found here . It’s well worth reading.