A sports hall of fame is more than a place where you can see filmed career highlights and game worn uniforms. It's an organization that can help put your autograph requests in the mailboxes of the nation's best sports performers from the past. Similarly, organizations like the PGA Tour and the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) can put you in touch with today's top competitors. And best of all, the United States Olympic Committee will help you get autographs from many of the world's best Olympic athletes.
When asked about their policy of forwarding mail to athletes, coaches and other notables, most halls of fame and several sports organizations say they will forward fan mail and autograph requests if the letter is sent to the person in care of the hall or organization. Almost all of them are very willing to help. That doesn't guarantee a free autograph or an offer from the athlete to sell you one. It only provides you with the means of getting your request to the pitcher, quarterback, race car driver or other sports celebrity whose autograph you want.
Each hall of fame also was asked which of its members did not want mail forwarded.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. will forward mail, but lists six members who don't want mail forwarded - Johnny Bench, Jim Bunning, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax and Carl Yastrzemski. Of those that do accept mail, some may sign your item for free, but most charge a fee or ask for a charitable donation, especially if you want more than one item signed. Tony Urban's "Kid's Corner" column in the October 1998 issue of Autograph Collector shows the signing habits of individual members.
Yogi Berra and Al Kaline each signed an index card for me recently without charge. Both were returned in less than two weeks. Rollie Fingers will return your items unsigned.
The Baseball Hall of Fame also will forward mail to broadcasters like Joe Garagiola, who has won the Ford Frick Award, and sportswriters who have won the J.G. Taylor Spink Award.
Writing to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. yielded signatures from the only two people who have been inducted both as a coach and player - John Wooden and Lenny Wilkins. Wooden signed two cards with a silver paint pen, adding "UCLA" beneath his name. I received five other positive responses, including Bill Bradley, Bob Cousy and Jerry West. All were received back in two or three weeks, except Bradley's, which took almost seven weeks.
Negative responses included a stamped "Big O" from Oscar Robertson. After a long wait, the Boston Celtics sent a letter stating that Red Auerbach didn't have time to sign all the requests he receives. I have had no response from Jerry Lucas (seven months), Elgin Baylor (five months) or Bill Walton (two months).
The Basketball HOF gave an unusual response when asked if it would forward mail. A representative asked who I would like to contact. When asked for a list of the enshrinees who do not want mail forwarded, I was told it's on a day-by-day basis. The latest list includes Rick Barry, John Havlicek, K.C. Jones, George Mikan and Bill Russell.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio also has an ever-changing don't-forward-mail list. Don't ask the Hall to forward your autograph request to Doug Atkins, Dick Butkus, Tony Canadeo, Larry Csonka, Weeb Eubank, Sonny Jurgensen, Merlin Olsen, John Riggins, Don Shula, Frank Tarkenton or Kellen Winslow. An earlier list included Paul Hornung, Hugh McElhenny and Alex Wojciechowicz, who weren't on it in October.
On the positive side, I've received autographs from 49 enshrined players or coaches. Almost all contained more than one signed item. Herb Adderley, George Musso and Dante Lavelli sent additional cards that they provided. Steve Largent (one card), George Blanch (two personalized cards), Sammy Baugh, Jim Ringo, Willie Wood (one personalized card), Adderley (cards personalized on back), Charlie Joiner, Mike Singletary and Otto Graham (three personalized cards) all responded quickly.
Several HOFers sent notes saying they no longer sign for free. These included Lance Alworth, Art Donovan, Tom Fears, Lou Groza, Ted Hendricks, Tommy McDonald, Marion Motley, Leo Nomellini, Bob St. Clair, Jan Stenerud and Clyde Turner. Some indicated that a por-tion of the fee went to charities.
One note added that a service handled autograph sales for Hugh McElhenny, John Mackey, Pete Pihos, Bobby Bell and Len Dawson. Mel Blount, Jim Brown, Jack Lambert, Willie Lanier and Dawson did not respond. My request to Willie Brown was returned.
Other football stars can be contacted through the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind., which will forward mail to any inductee. Through them I received two autographs from multi-talented Penn State DT Mike Reid, who not only won the Outland Trophy as the nation's out standing interior lineman in 1969, but also a Grammy Award for songwriting.
The best results came from drivers in the International Motor Sports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala. Race car drivers are well known for honoring autograph requests, and these retired stars proved it. So far every request has yielded a prompt pair of free autographs. The hall will forward mail to any driver or contributor. Another good source is the Motor Sports Hall of Fame of America in Novi, Mich., which has several members who aren't in the International Motor Sports Hall of Fame.
The Professional Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto also will help autograph seekers. A letter from the Hall indicated it will forward mail if requests include $2 to cover postage. Since many HOFers live in Canada, it may be necessary to enclose international Reply Coupons instead of putting stamps on an SASE. Contact the Hall for assistance in this regard. The only player who doesn't want mail forwarded is Stan Mikta, while mail forwarded to Bernie Geoffrion may be refused.
The PGA/World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla. indicated it would forward mail to any inducted golfer or contributor. However, items to Sam Snead will be returned with a note saying he "is no longer able to autograph by mail." The two items I received from Jack Nicklaus appear to be autopens. While the LPGA has its own hall of fame, most of its members can be contacted through the PGA/World Golf HOF.
Both the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I. and International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y. will forward mail to any of their members.
Horse racing fans can request the signatures of jockeys and trainers through the National Horse Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. When asked about its mail-forwarding policy, a representative told me, "we do it all the time."
The National Track & Field Hall of Fame in Indianapolis also will forward mail, as will the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. However, perhaps the best address to use for track and field athletes and swimmers is the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) in Colorado Springs, Colo.
USOC can put you in touch with the greatest athletes in the country and often the world. While you can't request an autograph from Babe Ruth, you might be able to get one from Eric Heiden, the "Babe Ruth of speed skating." You may not be able afford a Michael Jordan autograph, but you may be able to get one for free from Carl Lewis or Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
USOC offers the widest variety to collectors. Through them you can contact track and field stars, basketball players, swimmers, soccer players, wrestlers, tennis players, archers, gymnasts, skaters, skiers and many others who have competed for the United States in the Olympics or the Pan-Am Games.
My recent successes include wrestler Dan Gable, diver Pat McCormick, swimmer Janet Evans, and diver/coach Dr. Sammy Lee. Those to avoid include Scott Hamilton, Peggy Fleming and Kerri Strug, all of whom sent preprinted photos. I've had no response yet from swimmers Shirley Babashoff (eight months), Mary T. Meagher (eight months) and skater Kristi Yamaguchi. My request to gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi came back "Return to Sender Insufficient address."
Other organizations that will forward mail include the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), the United States Soccer Federation and the PGA Tour.
Collectors seeking the obscure and relatively unknown might want to contact the National Soccer Hall of Fame, the Canadian Football Hall of Fame or the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, all of which will forward mail. The National Bowling Hall of Fame and Museum and the International Women's Hall of Fame will not.
Your chances of getting free autographs using this method are better if you mention something about the athlete that you admire. If you have a question or two you'd like to ask, go ahead. You may receive a handwritten note or letter in reply. I've had NASCAR drivers tell me about their favorite victories, a female basketball player tell me about the five best women's players she's ever seen, and a gold medal-winning figure skater-turned-commentator give me his picks for the five greatest women figure skaters.
Now is the time to write for the autographs of sports greats. Why not do it before the price of stamps goes up again?
Gary Crouch is a freelance writer and an avid collector of sports autographs. He can be reached in care of Autograph Collector
Mining the Gold: Where to Find It
Reliable addresses are like gold to through-the-mail autograph seekers. Here's how to reach hundreds of sports celebrities. For a more complete listing of sources, look for a current sports almanac, such as the one published annually by Sports Illustrated, at your local library or bookstore.
National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
P.O. Box 590
Cooperstown, NY 13326
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
1150 W. Columbus Ave.
Springfield, MA 01101
Pro Football Hall of Fame
2121 George Halas Drive N.W.
Canton, OH 44708
Professional Hockey Hall of Fame
30 Yonge St.
Toronto, Ontario M5E 1X8
(416) 360-7735 ext. 227
PGA/World Gold Hall of Fame
1 World Golf Place
St. Augustine, FL 32092
LPGA Hall of Fame
100 International Gold Drive
Daytona Beach, FL 32124
International Tennis Hall of Fame
194 Bellevue Ave.
Newport, RI 02840
National Track & Field Hall of Fame
One RCA Dome #140
Indianapolis, IN 46225
International Motor Sports Hall of Fame
P.O. Box 1018
Talladega, AL 35160
Motor Sports Hall of Fame of America
P.O. Box 194
Novi, MI 48050
International Boxing Hall of Fame
1 Hall of Fame Drive
Canastota, NY 13032
College Football Hall of Fame
111 S. St. Joseph St.
South Bend, IN 46601
(219) 235-5581 or 1-800-486-FAME
National Horse Racing Hall of Fame
191 Union Ave.
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
International Swimming Hall of Fame
1 Hall of Fame Drive
Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33316
National Soccer Hall of Fame
5-11 Ford Ave.
Oneonta, NY 13820
Canadian Football Hall of Fame
58 Jackson St. West
Hamilton, Ontario L8P 1L4
U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame
801 Hat Trick Ave.
P.O. Box 657
Evelth, MN 55734
United States Olympic Committee
One Olympic Plaza
Colorado Springs, CO 80909
112 PGA Tour Blvd.
Ponte Vedra Beach, FL 32082
U.S. Soccer (United States Soccer Federation)
1801 S. Prairie Ave.
Chicago, IL 60616
ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals)
201 ATP Tour Blvd.
Ponte Vedra Beach, FL 32082