OK, so I get a lot of mail and email at Sports Illustrated. Some of it leads to fun interviews, such as the one I did a couple of weeks ago with Carl Lewis or the Point After column I did in the magazine this week with Marv Levy. Some of it leads to wild goose chases. Most of the emails, sadly, jump to the junk folder before they are ever opened.
But I got an interesting email the other day from the United States Postal Service. It seems that they are, once again, trying to raise interest in stamp collecting. God bless those guys -- in an era where video games are so realistic that gamers can earn actual purple hearts, in an era when high definition television is so clear that real life is a let down, in an era when you can play God on your phone, watch television on a tablet, print out any photograph ever taken and make perfect pasta every time … they are still clinging to the hope that people will collect tiny pieces of paper with pictures on them. I love stamps. I hope they're right.
In any case, my love of stamps pushed me to actually open the email … and it turns out that they're unveiling a four-stamp series they're calling "Major League Baseball All-Star Stamps." It will feature four players who, according to this release, "were perennial All-Stars and left an indelible impression on the game." That seems a bit repetitive to me … I'm not sure how many perennial All-Stars left an eradicable impression on the game. In any case, they decided to announce the first player as a teaser, I guess. Who would fall for such an obvious marketing ploy?
Me. Right. Exactly. In the email, they announced the first player is Joe DiMaggio. The other three will be announced at a later date.
And, of course, I fell right into it. I immediately wondered: Who will be the other three players on the stamps? And I wondered some more. And some more. And after a while, I decided I just have to know.
So, I did what all the great reporters from Woodward to Bernstein to Rosenthal have done: I put up a poll. This, it turned out, was a complete waste of time because when I put up the poll I was unaware of how United States stamps actually work. I'm going to keep up the poll because I have another related idea -- a Mount Rushmore of baseball kind of idea that someone pitched me on Twitter. But for the purposes of this post, it's useless. Almost nobody on the poll is actually eligible to be on the stamp. I went to the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee Web page and it turns out there are limitations when it comes to postage stamps. Here are just three that are relevant:
Rule No. 2: No living person shall be honored by portrayal on U.S. Postage.
Rule No. 12: No stamp shall be considered for issuance if one treating the same subject has been issued in the past 50 years.
Rule No. 16: No Brett Favre stamps. He was great, but we're sick of him.
Yes, I was surprised by the last rule too. But, no, it's not pertinent to our discussion here. These baseball stamps will not feature anyone who is still alive. So if you went to the poll and voted for Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Tom Seaver and so on … well, yeah, that was a wasted vote. Sorry, I didn't know that rule when I put up the poll.
Also, they won't issue a stamp of a player who was on a stamp in the last 50 years. Who would that include? I'm glad you asked -- here's a list of baseball players who have appeared on stamps along with the year the stamps were issued.
Roy Campanella (2006)
Josh Gibson (2000)
Jimmie Foxx (2000)
Lou Gehrig (1989)
Hank Greenberg (2006)
George Sisler (2000)
Eddie Collins (2000)
Rogers Hornsby (2000)
Jackie Robinson (1982)
Honus Wagner (2000)
Pie Traynor (2000)
Roberto Clemente (1984)
Ty Cobb (2000)
Mickey Cochrane (2000)
Mickey Mantle (2000)
Roger Maris (1999)
Mel Ott (2006)
Babe Ruth (1983)
Tris Speaker (2000)
Dizzy Dean (2000)
Lefty Grove (2000)
Walter Johnson (2000)
Christy Mathewson (2000)
Satchel Paige (2000)
Cy Young (2000)
So the first question is obvious: How in the heck has Joe DiMaggio not been on a stamp? He died back in 1999. I guess it just takes a while to get the momentum going. He was a lock for this foursome, and so the Postal Service did not waste any time in announcing him*.
*If you want to see how the stamp will look, you can go here.
And the second question: Who are the other three?
One is all but certain. Ted Williams will be on a stamp. If anything, he is an even more obvious choice than DiMaggio. He has never been featured on a stamp. He died in 2002. He might have been the greatest hitter in baseball history. He hit two famous home runs in All-Star games (we'll come back to that All-Star Game theme in a minute). And, oh yeah, he was an American hero having flown missions in two wars. He's an absolutely lock.
That leaves two more. And that's where it gets tricky. Every other person I listed in my poll is either still living or has been featured on stamp in the last 50 years. The easy and obvious choices -- Gehrig, Mays, Robinson and so on -- are eliminated from consideration. So I'll list off a few other possibilities and the odds I just set (though please: No wagering):
-- Carl Hubbell (Odds: Even). I feel strongly he will be one of the choices. Hubbell was, of course, a great pitcher. His 1933 MVP season (308 innings, 1.66 ERA, 10 shutouts) is legendary. And his 1936 MVP season isn't far behind (304 innings, 2.31 ERA, 26 wins). He has also never been featured on a stamp. And you figure at least one of the four will be a pitcher. But perhaps the key is that the theme here is "All-Star stamps." I think Hubbell will almost certainly get in because perhaps his most famous achievement happened during the 1934 All-Star Game when he struck out, in succession, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin.
-- Willie Stargell (Odds: 3 to 1): He was Pops on the We Are Family Pirates. He was one of the great home run hitters of his or any era. He had the sort of leadership skills that I would think appeals to the committee. He should be on a stamp. And, according to Rule No. 3 of the Advisory Committee: "It is an important goal of the stamp program to assure inclusion of the Nation’s diverse population especially women and minorities in choosing stamp subjects." I think he's a strong candidate.
-- Pee Wee Reese (Odds 4 to 1). A Hall of Fame player, a perennial All-Star -- and of course he is remembered for putting his arm around Jackie Robinson. He has an excellent shot.
-- Warren Spahn (Odds: 5 to 1). All those wins -- 363 of them. He died in 2003.
-- Eddie Matthews (10 to 1). One of the more underrated players in baseball history … he hit 500 home runs and was probably one of the five best players in the league each of his first 11 seasons.
-- Harmon Killebrew (Odds 25 to 1). We just lost the Killer, and so it might be too soon. But he was one of the great power hitters of all time and one of the great men in baseball history. His stance was so classic that everyone still stays that the MLB logo is of him, though the artist has said it isn't true.
-- Duke Snider (Odds 25 to 1): Like with Killer, Snider only recently died, which will probably eliminate his chances this go around.
-- Nellie Fox (Odds: 35 to 1). He played in 13 All-Star Games. He died in 1975. He's in the Hall of Fame, he won an MVP award, he was a fine defensive second baseman who wasn't nearly as good a hitter as people thought at the time (no walks, no power), but he did lead the league in hits four times.
-- Kirby Puckett (Odds: 50 to 1). I would doubt it because of some of the things that came out about Puckett after his death. But, hey, Ty Cobb was on a stamp. Puckett appeared in 10 All-Star Games and he was a preposterously lovable player who hit for high averages and made some wonderful catches.
Off the board (but could surprise): Bill Dickey, Ron Santo, Johnny Mize, Ducky Medwick, Arky Vaughan, Charlie Gehringer.
My bet, then, is: Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Carl Hubbell and Willie Stargell, though Pee Wee Reese in particular is an excellent surprise choice.
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Update 1 (11:30 p.m. Eastern): OK, see, I have sources. Really. I do. About four minutes after this post went up, I heard from someone with inside information who would not tell me who are the four players on the stamps but DID tell me that one of the four was not even mentioned above.
And, of course, as soon as I read that my heart sank. I can't believe I missed him.
Bob Feller. Bob Feller. Bobby Feller. Robert Feller. BOB FREAKING FELLER. How could I have missed him? How humiliating! How disgraceful!.
Yes, I am now predicting that Bob Feller is one of the four players on the stamps, along with Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and, um, I'll go with Willie Stargell though I don't really have a great feel for the fourth. How could I? I missed Bob Feller.
If I hear from baseball that I STILL have not named the fourth player on the stamp, then I give up.
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Update 2 (12:01 a.m Eastern): My source checked back in: It's not Bob Feller either. Apparently there is a rule that a person cannot be on a stamp until he has been deceased a certain amount of time -- I've seen both five or 10 years. So, I'm stumped. It could be a Negro Leagues player like Cool Papa Bell or Oscar Charleston, or a great old-timer like Old Hoss Radbourn, but none of them played in a Major League All-Star Game, which I think is one of the particulars here. It could be Don Drysdale, I suppose. Oh well. Maybe it will come to me overnight.
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Update 3 (Next morning):
Well, this is something new: A live blog about stamps. Based on some suggestions from brilliant readers and my own restless night of sleep, I have three more odds to add:
Larry Doby (Odds: Even): Yes, of course, I should have thought of him. Doby went through many of the same issues as Jackie Robinson, but he has never been on a stamp. He died in 2003 and so he qualifies. He's a seven-time All-Star and was a tremendous player -- he had a legitimate MVP case in 1950, '51 and '52 though he did not win any of those years. I'm thinking he's the guy.
Pete Alexander (Odds 15 to 1): I'm not sure when everybody started calling him Pete rather than the much more regal Grover Cleveland Alexander -- I blame Bill James -- but he was (1) One of the greatest pitchers in baseball history and (2) A notorious drunk. That doesn't spell stamp cover to me, but, it's worth repeating: Ty Cobb was on a stamp.
Don Drysdale (Odds 20 to 1): Probably the best player to appear on the Brady Bunch. He was a ferocious pitcher -- "I hate all pitchers" is the quote tagline for his Baseball Reference page -- and he was also a lovable announcer. I don't think it will be him, but as must be clear by now, I really have no idea what I'm doing here.
I'm now going with: Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Larry Doby and Carl Hubbell with Pee Wee Reese and Warren Spahn just on the outside looking in.