It took 16½ years, but Dale Case finally got those autographed baseball cards of former major-league infielder Glenn Hubbard he sent through the mail.
But don’t blame the Postal Service. In fact, give an Arkansas mailman an assist.
Case, 52, the principal the past six years at Visual & Performing Arts Magnet School in Jonesboro, Arkansas, used to mail baseball cards to former players for years, usually at a rate of 10 per month. On July 5, 2002, Case mailed three cards of Hubbard — 1985 Topps, 1987 Topps and 1988 Donruss Diamond Kings — to the former Atlanta Braves player. On Jan. 10, 2019 — 16 years, 189 days later — he received the self-addressed, stamped envelope he sent, all personalized with “To Dale.” The Donruss card has an additional flourish, “All My Best.”
Because Case had moved twice since 2002, the chances of him getting the letter at his new Jonesboro address appeared slim to begin with. But his former mail carrier had a good memory.
“He was a former student of mine,” Case said. “So, he knew my daughter and son-in-law still lived in that neighborhood.”
The mail carrier left the envelope with Case’s daughter, who placed a call to her father.
“I’ve got a mystery for you,” she said. “Who is Glenn Hubbard?”
“You mean the baseball player?” Case asked.
That was the guy, who played second base for the Atlanta Braves and Oakland Athletics from 1978 to 1989.
“You got a letter from him,” Case’s daughter said. “And the stamp is dated 2002.”
Fortunately, Case had put a “Forever” stamp on the return envelope; stamps in 2002 sold for 34 cents but are now 50 cents apiece. This one had a 2019 postmark from “Metro Atlanta,” where Hubbard currently lives. Hubbard could not be reached for comment.
Case was able to add Hubbard’s name to the more than 3,500 autographs listed in the binders he has meticulously kept through the years. His last mailed entries were sent out May 5, 2003, to Miguel Cairo (Cardinals), Jason Hill, Mike O’Keefe and Bobby Jenks (Arkansas Travelers), and Norm DeBriyn (University of Arkansas baseball coach). All were returned and signed.
“I always kept records, it was like a game to me,” Case said.
The first card he sent out through the mail was to Hall of Famer Luke Appling. Case sent the card in a protective plastic toploader, and when he got it back, there was a signature of “Old Aches and Pains” — but it was on the plastic.
“I remember thinking that he was in his 80s then and he probably didn’t want to take the time to get it out of the plastic,” Case said.
As a young adult, Case got the idea to send cards, photos or postcards through the mail for autographs. Using the information put together by Jack Smalling’s series of books that gave out the home addresses of many players, Case went to work. He limited his letters to 10 per month (“one book of stamps”), and the cards began to roll in.
“I started writing letters to their homes,” he said. “I tried to get the older players.
“I would always ask them to sign it ‘To Dale,” so then they’d know I was a collector and not trying to sell their signatures. Each month I’d see who I’d get back.”
Case was not looking for superstars, either, figuring — rightly — that they probably would not return the cards.
Born in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Case’s family moved to Lepanto, Arkansas, when he was 5 years old. He rooted for the Milwaukee Brewers as a youth and considered Robin Yount and Paul Molitor as favorites. He also naturally gravitated toward the Cardinals, since St. Louis was located to the north of his hometown and to the south was Memphis, where the Cardinals had its Triple-A minor-league affiliate.
His favorite Cardinals player? Stan Musial as a youth, and now it is catcher Yadier Molina.
Case attended college at Arkansas State University, where he earned his bachelor’s, masters and specialist degrees. After a career as an art teacher at the high school level, Case went into school administration and has been a principal for 22 years. He uses his school office and his basement “man cave” at home to house his signature cards. Case’s office at school is an array of bobblehead dolls, autographed baseballs and other memorabilia.
He stepped up his autograph quest by sending index cards to Negro League players and baseball cards to former players. The return has been gratifying.
“I’ve got binders and binders full of them,” Case said. “I can’t sell them because I can’t verify them, but that’s not why I collect.”
Thirteen years ago, Case took his two daughters to meet Hall of Famer George Kell at his home in nearby Swifton. Kell had invited Case to come by, and it was a memorable trip.
“He lived 35 minutes away from us and he was a very approachable Hall of Famer,” Case said. “He signed a bat and a ball and took pictures with us.”
Another time, Case sent a photograph to broadcaster Harry Caray and got a letter back, along with the unsigned picture.
“I sent him an 8-by-10 and he sent a long letter back, telling me that whoever sold the photo to me had ripped me off because (Caray) sent those pictures back for free,” Case said.
Case tried to get Shawon Dunston to sign a piece of artwork he drew of the former Cubs player but was politely rebuffed. Dunston explained that because of contractual obligations, he could not sign independently.
Case has not limited his autograph collection to sports figures. He also owns autographs of musicians, actors and Arkansas politicians. He can point to autographs from singers Faith Hill, Charlie Daniels and Amy Grant, along with actors like Buddy Ebsen, Art Carney and Barbara Billingsley. Being from Arkansas, Case also managed to score an autograph from former president Bill Clinton, who was campaigning for Barack Obama in 2008.
Hubbard will be returning to the Lexington Legends, an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, for the sixth straight season as a coach. Case has plenty of interesting stories to tell, but an autograph that finally arrived 16 years after it was sent is memorable.
He’s hoping that letters he sent to Mike Scioscia and Orel Hershiser on July 5, 2002, might come back signed someday. But for now, Case is thankful for a mail carrier who went the extra mile for him.
“I owe a lot of thanks to the mailman,” Case said. “The letter could have been thrown in the trash.”