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Ramblings: Rare Autographs on Cards Sometimes Result from Sudden Death

You know what truly fascinates me is when a person has a limited amount of time to sign an item before they pass on. An example of that is in laurence_owen1961, when a terrible plane crash killed the United States figure skating team.  That week, the Sports Illustrated cover featured American female champion Laurence Owen, daughter of legendary figure skater Maribel Owen.  The time between the magazine hitting the newsstand and the day of the crash meant she had all of two days to sign copies of that magazine.

Mike Powers T206In sports cards we have sometimes have very similar circumstances going way back to the T206 set. We do not know as of today exactly what week the cards first began appearing in cigarette packs, but one of the players in that set was Mike “Doc” Powers, a catcher for the Philadelphia Athletics.  On opening day of the 1909 season. Powers got hurt and would pass away within a month. Since autographs were not a big thing in those days it is doubtful Powers ever autographed any of them. But there is still a possibility such a signed card exists and if so, then that could very well be the holy grail of signed cards from that set.

I recently wrote about Harry Agganis passing away during the same year his first and only Topps card was released in 1955 and how there are signed and authenticated copies. Agganis did have some time to sign cards during the season and possibly while he was in the hospital.

Frank Buncom 1969 ToppsFootball has always been a rough sport and because of the size of the players and undetected ailments they have been known to pass on at way too young of an age. I swear I pulled a 1969 Topps Frank Buncom card on a Saturday trip to my local stationary store and the next day was stunned to hear about his death while watching an AFL game on television. The second series had arrived at that store a few weeks earlier so I still believe there are some signed 1969 Frank Buncom cards in existence.

Herman Hill 1970 Topps rookiesBut perhaps the worst year for those type of passings in my childhood involved the 1970 Topps set. There were several players in that set who would not even live until 1972. Among them are Herman Hill, a rookie prospect for the Minnesota Twins who died while swimming off the Venezuelan shore.

There was also Paul Edmondson who passed on in a February 1970 car accident. I don’t think this card can be signed since I doubt the card series he was in had actually been released at that time. There is also Miguel Fuentes, who holds the distinction of being the last Seattle Pilots pitcher. Fuentes pitched the final inning of a 3-1 loss to the Oakland Athletics and the last better he faced was future Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson.  Fuentes would be killed in a bar fight on January 29, 1970 and thus the odds of his first series card being signed is minimal as well.  At the time, I swore the 1970 set was jinxed and still think so today because the key rookie card in that set (Thurman Munson) would not live through the decade either.

Joe DeSa 1986One example in the 1980’s of such a card was Joe DeSa who was a backup first baseman for the Chicago White Sox and appeared on an ’86 Topps card.  He died in a car crash in Puerto Rico on December 20, giving him time to sign but DeSa spent most of the year in the minor leagues.

And in the beginning of the 21st century this whole concept took an interesting twist. One example of that was Mets prospect Brian Cole who died in a car crash while on his way to the minor leagues. Since Cole had signed some rookie cards that were ready for release the card companies were able to get permission to to use Cole’s already signed cards in a couple of upcoming issues back in 2001. So yes, we had the unusual case of a player with a signed card that one could pull from the pack who was never going to play a major league game.

Have any similar stories to relate?  Drop me a note at the email address below.

About Rich Klein

Rich Klein has spent almost his entire life collecting baseball cards having begun at the tender age of seven. He has spent more than three decades in the organized hobby including editing the first 12 editions of the Beckett Almanac of Baseball Card and Collectibles. He lives in Plano, TX along with his wife Dena and their two dogs. You can reach him at [email protected].

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  1. […] of the most popular stories was about those who appear on trading cards or magazines and then pass away in a short period of time following the release.  It’s a challenge for autograph collectors and also a popular target for […]

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