From as far back as I can remember, I liked writing letters as a means of staying in contact with out-of-town and/or faraway friends. It might have had something to do with the fact that my father and his four brothers and two sisters had a schedule where they would, once a week, write (or call) one of the other siblings. While we lived in the same town with one of those aunts and two of those uncles, the other uncles lived in — in no particular order — Arizona, Illinois and New York while my other aunt was a nurse in Puerto Rico. I think it was the Puerto Rican stamps and postmark that intrigued me; or maybe I just like words.
I have, in my desk at work, a letter I wrote to my late sister and her husband when I was in the ninth grade. In it, I talked about Christmas shopping for my mother and how my grades fell just a bit short of the Honor Roll and how I was going to work harder.
I loved the literature and reading (and writing) classes in high school, so when I moved on to college, it was only natural that I got a job at the student newspaper, where I was Sports Editor for two years. It was there, also, that I had a friend on the baseball team who called San Diego home and impressed the hell out of me one day when he showed me a baseball signed by then San Diego Padres pitcher Randy Jones. Up until then, my brush with fame was (were?) the annual Republican picnics in Kent County, Michigan (my dad was a politician back then) where Congressman Jerry Ford would always show up and hand out silver dollars to all the little shavers. (Unfortunately, I did not keep them; they would be worth quite a bit of money these days.)
Anyway, back to the Randy Jones thing. A few weeks after Don showed me the signed baseball, Sports Illustrated featured Randy Jones on its cover with the tagline “Threat to Win 30.” I figured, hey, if my friend could get a baseball signed, why couldn’t I get an SI cover signed. I sent the cover with a letter and the requisite SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope) to Randy Jones ℅ The San Diego Padres and lo and behold, a couple of weeks later it came back. Signed. That, fortunately (or unfortunately, as my wife was wont to say) was the start of a lot of letter writing to athletes and others who appeared on the covers of Sports Illustrated. When I finally begin to unload my collection via an on-line auction website late last year, my count was up to 366 signed Sports Illustrated covers. I’ve got other stuff, too, including a signed baseball by Mo Vaughn that I caught when he hit a grand-slam home run against the Tigers in 1994, and a World Cup ticket stub that bears the signature of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. I met him when some folks I know in Holland invited me to join them and their German pen pals for a game at Soldier Field in Chicago.
To cut this rambling short, I still write letters, but mostly, nowadays, to a select few that I enjoy watching on TV or in movies. I don’t hold high hopes for responses, but every now and then I do include an SASE just in case. Which brings me to a letter I got in the mail just the other day. Flashback to “The Twilight Zone,” and an episode from 1960 titled “The Mighty Casey.” The story is about a crummy minor league baseball team, well, here’s what I found on wikipedia: “Mouth” McGarry, the manager of a broken-down baseball team on its last legs, allows a robot named Casey to play on his team. Casey has the ability to throw super-fast balls that cannot be hit. Eventually, after Casey is beaned by a ball and given a physical examination, the National League finds out and rules that Casey must be taken off the team because he is not human. Casey’s inventor, Dr. Stillman, gives him an artificial heart to have him classified as human. Now that Casey has human emotions, he refuses to throw his fast balls anymore. He says that he feels empathy with the batter and does not want to ruin the batter’s career by striking him out. With the team sure to fold soon, Dr. Stillman gives McGarry Casey’s blueprints as a souvenir. Glancing at them, McGarry suddenly has a brilliant idea, as he and the scientist set off to create an entire pitching staff of “Casey” robots.
Casey was played by a guy named Robert Sorrells, who also had parts in a number of other TV shows (Gunsmoke, Ensign O’Toole) and was in the movie “Fletch,” playing Marvin Stanwyk. I liked Sorrells in The Twilight Zone so I did some internet digging and I found a story about him and other not-so-famous famous people at http://notveryfamous.blogspot.com.
Further digging resulted in …