Potential Hall members full of collecting power

“I am under the impression that Bobby Veach is in the Hall of Fame, if he is not, he certainly belongs there.”

Carl Hubbell – New York Giants Hall of Famer

As a student of baseball I have no greater joy than debating which players deserve induction into Cooperstown.

As you may have guessed, my favorite candidate is former Detroit Tigers outfielder Bobby Veach. I have been trying for more than 20 years to get Veach inducted into the Hall of Fame. My efforts to date have proved fruitless, but as a lifelong fan I remain forever optimistic. Before I die I will see Veach win a venerated bronze plaque and take his rightful place next to brothers Cobb, Crawford, and Heilmann.

The following article examines signatures of five men who many feel deserve induction into the Hall of Fame, after Veach, of course.

Sam Leever

Known as the “Goshen Schoolmaster,” Sam Leever was one of the truly great pitchers of all time. Leever began his career in 1898 with Pittsburgh and pitched in the majors until 1910. He is a four time 20-game winner and when all was said and done, he posted a win/loss record of 194-100. Today, his winning percentage of .660 is one of the finest in the history of the game. Why Leever has not gained entrance into Cooperstown is beyond me. His Hall-of-Fame-like numbers make Leever an extremely desired name in the market and prices for his autograph have gone through the roof in recent years.

Leever signed in a wonderfully bold and beautiful hand. His signature looks like it belongs on the Declaration of Independence. Example 1 is from his younger days and this signature has amazing eye appeal. Note the sweeping loops and the historical look of the signature. Example 2 was signed in the 1940s. It is less flamboyant but still pleasing to the eye. Signatures penned towards the end of his life evidence a fair amount of unsteadiness. His older-aged signature is a target of forgers and many nicely executed forgeries exist in the market so caution is warranted.

Leever is a scarce signature. He is typically found on index cards and government postcards. Any other medium he should be considered rare to very rare. Signed letters are near non-existent and I have never seen a genuine signed baseball or 8-by-10 photograph.

Due to his Hall of Fame numbers and association with 19th-century ball, his signature is in high demand and rather pricey. A signature is worth about $600 and government postcards are approaching $1000. Values of other mediums are not known.

Ed Reulbach

Eddie Reulbach is another fascinating character from the Dead ball era. All but forgotten by popular culture, Reulbach pitched most of his career with the Cubbies. In a career that spanned 13 years, Reulbach compiled a win/loss record of 182-106 with an amazing ERA of 2.28. Moreover, on Sept. 26, 1908, he pitched both ends of a doubleheader without giving up a run.

Reulbach signed in a bold and confident hand. His signature has nice uniform letters and is highly legible (see examples 3 and 4). Reulbach material should be considered scarce but not rare. He can be found on index cards, handwritten letters, government postcards, and small book pictures. Signed balls and 8-by-10 photographs are considered rare to very rare.

Reulbach is a target of forgers and his hand is rather easy to replicate so caution is warranted. Reulbach’s hand remained strong his entire life, hence a genuine signature will exhibit no shakiness of hand.

His amazing lifetime record creates strong demand for his signature and prices in recent years have moved up markedly. Back in 1983, I attended one of my first card shows, I purchased three index cards signed by Reulbach, Eddie Cicotte, and Pete Fox, for $15. Today a signed index card of Reulbach is worth $300, with a government postcard valued at $500-$600. A handwritten letter will start at $1,000.

To this day I have never understood why Reulbach is still on the outside of the Hall looking in. The headlines mostly overlooked the old Chicago war horse. Even in death, history all but ignored the once great pitcher, for Reulbach died on July 17, 1961, the same day the legendary Ty Cobb died. Not surprisingly, Cobb got all the press.

Lefty O’Doul

Francis Joseph O’Doul was born on March 4, 1897, in San Francisco. O’Doul is one of the more controversial candidates seeking entry into Cooperstown. His name stirs much debate. O’Doul played 11 years and retired in 1934 with a lifetime average of .349. He secured two batting crowns and in 1929 fell just shy of the mythical Cobb line when he batted .398. In that same year he would secure 254 base hits. O’Doul’s signature is in much demand and fortunately he signed willingly for collectors. He can be found on most mediums, from album pages to government postcards, 1933 Goudey cards, and the like. He is considered rare on single-signed balls and handwritten letters.

O’Doul signed in a bold hand. His hand appears a bit reckless resulting in a signature that is easy to forge. There are many well-executed forgeries in the market so caution is warranted. Examples 5 and 6 are nice illustrations of O’Doul’s blazing signature. A target of forgers seems to be old gum cards especially the 1960 Fleer and 1933 Goudey cards. O’Doul died in 1969 and signed until the end, his hand remained strong his entire life, hence a genuine O’Doul signature will exhibit no signs of unsteadiness.

Most O’Doul material can be purchased for under $100 while premium material will sell for much more. A signed Goudey card is worth about $250, an 8-by-10 photograph, is a tough acquisition and will run about $400. A single-signed ball is rare so expect to pay $2,000. In his later years O’Doul owned a restaurant and as a result, many business checks are in the market, expect to pay $125-$150.

Gus Weyhing

Is a great early name from the pioneer days of baseball. Nicknamed “The Louisville Cannonball”, Weyhing recorded 264 kills and won 30 or more games in a season an amazing four times. He retired in 1901 after pitching 14 years of major league ball.

Fortunately for collectors, Weyhing lived to be almost 90 years old. He died in 1955, just when collectors started to focus on the old-time players. While his signature is considered scarce he can be found on index cards and government postcards, mostly signed after 1950. Example 7 is Weyhing’s old-age signature. Old age signatures are about the only material available. Signed photos and letters are very rare but do exist. I have never seen a signed baseball. Due to the unsteady hand, Weyhing is an easy target for forgers and most Weyhing signatures in the market (90 percent or greater) are forgeries.

Demand for Weyhing is very strong simply because he eventually has to make the Hall of Fame, his numbers are just too good. A signature will sell for $500 and government postcards run about $700-$800. Handwritten letters will start at $2,000 if you can find one and small book pictures will sell for $900-$1,000.

Wild Bill Donovan

Wild Bill Donovan was a member of Hughie Jennings’ great Tiger teams in the first part of the last century. Donovan, who was probably the finest pug (boxer) in the league, was a soft-spoken leader of the Tigers. Donovan recorded 186 kills, with a very low lifetime ERA of 2.69. He would later manage the Yankees and the Phillies. Donovan was killed in a train wreck in 1923.

Donovan’s signature is beyond rare and surfaces once every blue moon. I have been collecting for more than 20 years and have only come across three genuine examples. All were documents or letters tied to his days as a manager/team executive. I have never seen a Donovansigned item from his days as a Detroit Tiger, though I am hopeful to find a Tigers contract someday. I have come to the conclusion that genuine Donovan signatures exist only on signed letters and team documents.

Donovan signed in a vertical hand, his signature is legible and lacks any noticeable slant. The display value of the old Tiger great is strong (see example 8). Because Wild Bill died unexpectedly, his hand remained strong until the end. A genuine Donovan will exhibit no signs of unsteadiness. As to a price guide: A signature should run about $1,200-$1,500. A Donovan-typed letter has an estimated sales price of $2,500, while a handwritten letter should start at $3,500.

There are several forged Tigers team balls in the market today that were purportedly signed before 1915. Genuine signed team balls from this period are likely non-existent. If you run across any of these old team balls proceed with extreme caution. In general, my advice to collectors is to avoid them altogether. I do not like to make blanket statements about avoiding signed material as each piece should (after examination) stand on its own and should be judged on a case-by-case basis. However, I have examined dozens of signed pre-1915 teamballs and I have yet to find a real one.

Tigers team balls seem to be a popular target, in fact, I see more forged Detroit team balls from this period than any other team. If signatures of Donovan, Hugh Jennings, Ed Killian, Germany Schaefer grace the ball, the alarm bell should sound.

Final Thoughts

I would also watch out for the following men as those who could eventually gain a plaque in Cooperstown: Mel Harder, Doc Cramer, Tony Mullane, Deacon Phillippe, Cecil Travis, Urban Shocker, Jess Tannehill, Umpire Shag Crawford, Frank Navin, Babe Herman, Riggs Stephenson, Stuffy McInnis and maybe, just maybe, Smokey Joe Wood.

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