The Autograph Expert - Vintage Series

Autograph Analysis and Signing Habits of Hall of Fame Outfielder Hugh Duffy

I n the Cranston, Rhode Island suburb of River Point, Hugh Duffy came into this world on November 26, 1866. Born of Irish parents, the youngster worked in a blue-dye shop lifting heavy wet textiles from machines. He developed great strength in his wrists. As a teenager, he took a job in a mill in Jewett City, Connecticut and supplemented his income by playing weekend semi-pro baseball. In 1885, he was able to increase his monthly earnings from $30 to $50 by joining a team in Winstead, CT. Primarily, he pitched and played shortstop during his amateur and semipro years. The following year, Hugh signed his first pro contract and played right field for the Hartford club of the Eastern League. Duffy made stops in Springfield, Salem and Lowell all with great success, always hitting for high average.

Duffy sig
Early 1930's version

The 5' 7", 165 pound, right handed outfielder caught the eye of Tim Murname of the Chicago White Stockings (later the Cubs) who offered him a contract for $1200. When Boston manager Mike Kelly muddied the waters with a better offer, Murname was forced to sign Duffy to a $2000 deal. Considered to be too small for the job by Manager and legendary batsman Cap Anson, the ignored Duffy rode the bench for two months. In July, he got his opportunity when right fielder and renowned evangelist Billy Sunday was traded to Pittsburgh.

Despite his small stature, Duffy provided power in addition to his prowess as a prolific hitter. Anson drilled the fleet-footed youngster until he gained the reputation as one of the better defensive players in the game. Like many others, Duffy jumped to the new Players League in 1890, now playing for manager Charles Comiskey's Chicago Pirates team. The league went defunct and Duffy found himself sold to the league champion Boston Reds of the American Association in 1891. Once again, the league collapsed and Duffy shifted to the consolidating Boston Beaneaters which he would remain with for nine years.

Duffy
1919 Handwritten Letter

Along with the mediocre right fielder (and future Hall of Famer) Tommy McCarthy, also 5' 7" and a New Englander, they became known as the "Heavenly Twins". The two would become good friends on and off the field. As team captain, Hugh earned the reputation as an excellent base runner and mastered the execution of the hit-and-run play. It was this year in 1892, that he won his third successive pennant and gained the distinction of being the only person to win batting titles in four different major leagues. The team of the decade also included future Hall of Famers Kid Nichols and Jimmy Collins. His finest season came just two years later when he won the Triple Crown hitting 18 home runs, amassing 236 hits, batting in 145 runs and hitting the all-time season batting average of .438. This all came the year the distance between the mound and home plate increased by 10' 6"; the league batting average soared to .309.

After years of producing well in Boston, Duffy and his brother-in-law met with Ban Johnson in Philadelphia to discuss Boston as a possible location for a new American League franchise. Consequently, Duffy was given the player/managerial role for the new Milwaukee club. He became a popular figure in the city whose German residents referred to him as "Duffmeier". He decided to remain in the city even when the team returned to the Western League over the 1902 and 1903 campaigns. In 1904, he took over the helm of the Philadelphia Phillies where he managed for three seasons, playing himself sparingly and piloting with little success. He finished his 17-year playing career with 2,283 hits, 105 home runs (in an era when few were hit), 574 stolen bases and a lifetime .324 batting mark. When asked about his hitting technique years later "Little Hughey" replied, "It comes natural. You just walk up there and hit!"

Duffy
Early 1950's Government postcard cut

Saving his earnings wisely, he purchased the Providence team of the Eastern League where he also served as manager from 1907 to 1909. Baseball never left his blood; he returned to manage the Chicago White Sox in 1910 and 1911, went back to skipper the 1912 Milwaukee team of the American Association, and then purchased the Portland team of the New England League and managed that team from 1913 to 1916. The Boston Braves hired him as a scout for two years, starting in 1917, while serving as a baseball coach for Boston College (again in 1927) and later Harvard in 1919. At the time, he made his home at 5 Wayne Street in Roxbury, MA. In 1920, Toronto of the International League sought his piloting services.

Duffy
Dot matrix magazine picture (Edens Collection)

Never missing a year in 68 without a baseball paycheck, Duffy was asked to manage the Boston Red Sox for the lean years (1921-22) of their depleted talent. They found a job for him as scout and, later, he was the director of its New England tryout camp and baseball school. Overall, he was regarded as a general goodwill ambassador and Red Sox headmaster emeritus who was receptive to reporters' requests of reminiscing about the good old days. Although always in uniform during spring training, he was only officially named a coach for the 1932 and 1939 (#31) seasons. He actually assumed the statuses of general manager and vice-president for the Bosox in the late 1940's and early 1950's. In addition, Duffy took a special interest in the tutelage of his prize pupil (the young Ted Williams) and helped him in learning how to play Fenway's Green Monster. Duffy contended that the "Splendid Splinter" was the best hitter he had ever seen. Each year, right up until 1953, he would travel south to spring training always donning his uniform.

Duffy only drank on occasion and the vilest swear word in his vocabulary was "by jingoes." Like so many of his contemporaries, his achievements were underappreciated by the Baseball Writers Association of America. His day of glory came on April 25, 1945, when he was selected (#34) by the Permanent (Old Timers) Committee for immorality into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Due to the ongoing curtails of World War II, no ceremony was held for the sixth straight year. There is no record of Duffy ever visiting Cooperstown. He and his wife, Nora I. (nee Moore) lived at 709 Cambridge Street in Brighton, MA. On October 19, 1954, he died at the age of 87. He was buried at Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Boston, MA. His wife preceded him in death on August 21, 1953. There were no immediate survivors from his family.

The right handed signature of "Hugh Duffy" evolved over the years from a smaller, upright (almost obtuse) version to a larger acute style that remained fairly consistent in the 1940's and 50's. The initial stroke of the capital "H" formed what resembled a European "1", broken, then collaborated with a separate vertical downstroke and intersecting loop that pierced the former. In later years, he would generally bisect the second downstroke to lead into the legible "u". He may or may not connect with the always adjoining "gh". The "g" could be mistaken for a lower case cursive "j", stretching high to create an oversized "h" and finishing with a vertically dropping downstroke.

Although closed in earlier times, the capital "D" (the tallest letter) often had a large gap on top with varying styles of open and closed loops. In earlier times, he would not use a baseline initial stroke with the "u" but later it was employed and often elevated the balance of his signature. The attached double "f" combination was tightly configured with triangular bottom loops whose summation bared resemblance to an ornate capital "H". Without a pen lift, a large tilted "y" finished upward normally not violating the baseline. His latter signature slowed down some in the final year and became less fluid and jagged.

Duffy
Duffy's Gravesite

Acquiring a Hugh Duffy signature for your collection should just require a moderate search and some money. Index cards ($450) are uncommon and government postcards ($550) are slightly more available. Very often, Duffy would write under his autograph "Red Sox coach for young players". Album pages, usually with other players, are the most affordable medium and the fans accessibility to him from his years of coaching made this available. About ten years back, a find of Red Sox correspondence leaked into the hobby. Typed letters on Red Sox letterhead often requesting radio broadcast rights ($650) and Uniform Player contracts between major and minor league teams (same prices) are possibilities.

Duffy
Perez-Steele Art Postcard

I remember examining a handwritten letter for auction (circa 1919) with baseball content and the original postmarked envelope. This vintage item would fetch a premium at $1200. Cancelled checks have never been rumored. Photographs are rare, but a few magazine images ($600) with black craft paper backing from the extensive Ambrose Edens (TX) collection are about the only option. Signed baseball cards are somewhat unrealistic but the 1947 Exhibit ($800) vending card does exist. Albertype black and white plaque postcards ($2200) are rising in value as I write. Single signed baseballs ($2500 or better) are very rare and needless to say, beware of the fakes.