The Autograph Expert



Autograph Analysis and Signing Habits of Hall of Fame Pitcher Herbert Jefferis Pennock



H erbert Jefferis Pennock was born on February 10, 1894 in the comfortable countryside of Kennett Square, PA. He was raised to become an expert horse rider, master foxhunter and houndsman. He also bred silver foxes for their pelts and was appropriately nicknamed "The Squire (or Knight) of Kennett Square". Standing 6 feet and only weighing 165 lbs., Pennock threw left-handed, batted predominantly right-handed (although he did bat from the left side of the plate in 1934) and wrote right-handed. Herb was a graduate of the Wenonah Military Academy.

At the age of eighteen, the rail-like southpaw auditioned for Connie Mack and was awarded an immediate position with the Athletics. Originally signing on as a first baseman, Pennock was moved to a pitching role when he hurled a no-hitter in 1912 . Still unimpressed with his latent talent and affluent upbringing, Mack waived Pennock to the Red Sox in 1915 which would become one of the greatest regrets of "Mr. Mack's" baseball life. Two mediocre seasons were sidelined by one year in the World War I Navy where he won the Army-Navy game in front of an audience that included King George.

His big break came in 1923 when the Sox sold him to the Yankees for $35,000 and three no-name players. He immediately joined the likes of Ruth and company and pitched to a 19-7 record and achieved the Yankees first World Series championship. In 22 seasons, his pinpoint control compiled 240 wins (161 defeats), posted a 3.61 ERA and was undefeated with five World Series wins. He was known to recognize the weaknesses in his opposition and never become flustered under pressure. After being released by the Yankees in 1934, he pitched in thirty games for the Red Sox that season then became a Red Sox coach (1936-39), later farm director before receiving the GM job from his longtime friend Bob Carpenter in 1943. Carpenter had a World War II obligation and stated, "Pennock is now in charge of the operation of the entire club". Pennock is credited with building the Phillies farm system and wisely giving bonus money to young future stars like Roberts, Simmons, Jones, Hamner and Ashburn which later materialized in their 1950 pennant.

On January 30, 1948, despite appearing in excellent health, he entered the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City to attend the winter meetings where he collapsed in the lobby. He suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage and was rushed by ambulance to Midtown Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Herb was only eleven days short of his 54th birthday. Appropriately, he was buried at Union Hill Cemetery in his lifelong hometown of Kennett Square. Obviously, the baseball community was stunned and moved by his sudden passing. The Baseball Writers Association immediately inducted Pennock posthumously to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on July 12, 1948. He was survived by his wife, son Joseph and his daughter Jane, who wed namesake Eddie Collins, Jr., a "cup of coffee" ballplayer himself and son of the famous Hall of Fame second baseman.

Although an obliging signer in person and through the mail, collectors could not take advantage of any post-election years when most autographs are requested and generated. As General Manager and Vice President of the Phillies from 1943 to 1948, Pennock signed numerous documents and typewritten letters. Typically, non-descript player contracts sell for around $750 and the later for under $1,000. The more desirable handwritten letters, especially from his playing career can fetch as much as $2,000. Pre-printed letterhead and postmarked envelopes add to their value. Government postcards are occasionally offered between $800-$900; the even rarer 3x5 index cards ranging slightly lower. Pennock's affiliation with the 1927 Yankee ball club has always elevated his signature to high demand. A real treasure is to locate a cancelled personal check for around $1,200. I figure that there are fewer than thirty of these bank drafts in the hobby, most of which are sunk deep into established collections. Team album pages and baseballs appear to be the most common medium for obtaining his signature and usually go for $650 and $2,000 plus, respectively. Single signed baseballs are RARE and the lucrative device of forgers. Valid examples start at $2,500, even in fair condition.

Pennock's signature mimicked his even-tempered personality and effortless pitching style of unvarying motion. The autograph was full of grace yet not of any overpowering formation. His "H" was a two stroke formation that resembled two italic capital "J"s side by side. Generally, a break would occur before carefully spacing the "erb" or "ert" if he felt inclined. Often, especially on team balls and album pages, he would just provide his initials "HJ" without lifting his pen between letters. A single line pretzel-like "J", the only descender loop to dip beneath the baseline, became an extension of the cross in the "t". A period was placed below the cross strokes for punctuation. Again, not lifting the stylus, the robust "P" overlapped the preceding capital letter only to encroach or envelop the subsequent "e" followed by the double garland style "n"s. Nothing special about the "o", however, the single lined "k" intertwined with a high ascender loop which ultimately finished in a downward arced terminal stroke. On occasion, for unexplained finishing flourish, Pennock would symmetrically cross his "t" once again but this time with a wavelike heavy stroke.

Collectors should not expect to find his autograph on bats, uniforms and caps. I had to chuckle a few years back when I read that a Philadelphia area auction house offered a signed black and white Hall of Fame plaque postcard featuring Pennock. The card was obviously printed after his death, thus being an outright forgery. To illustrate the grandeur of this epidemic problem, I've seen the same company list Mordecai Brown, Chief Bender and Ed Barrow signed plaques subsequently. All of these are impossibilities. Caveat emptor!