When you send away for autographs, you never know what the day’s mail will bring. Sometimes your cards and photos come back unsigned. Sometimes current and former players and coaches get them back to you, nicely signed, in a couple of weeks. Sometimes you get something returned to you that you had completely forgotten about. Last month, Ross Rutter had one of those days.
Rutter, who has been sending away for autographs since his 1980’s youth, opened an envelope to find an autographed Pro Line football card of Wayne Fontes that had been sent to the former Detroit Lions coach nine years ago.
Better late than never.
That would seem a logical explanation for a 3,344 day wait. “It was in my log I keep but I haven’t gone back to 2004 to look in a while.”
The man who coached Barry Sanders is now 73 and lives in Florida. He even added postage to Rutter’s return envelope to make sure it arrived. Stamps were only 37 cents back then.
Obviously, Rutter keeps pretty detailed records of when he sends his “TTM” or “Through the Mail” requests to sports figures of all kinds. He sends out five to ten a week, fewer since he became a father since there isn’t quite as much free time, but in addition to keeping track of what he sends and what he gets he chronicles some of his successes on a special Facebook page. He’s not a dealer; just a hard core collector with a passion for autographs.
“First experience was back in the mid 70’s when I was really little,” he recalled. “My dad took me to Sheehy Ford to meet (former Redskins player) Mike Bass. I was hooked. The following year John Riggins came to town and we went and met him. I still have both of those 8×10’s in my collection.”
“I counted my signed cards last summer and had over 5500. I have never counted the 8×10’s or 16×20’s. I would guess 40 or so mini helmets, 50 or so signed baseballs and jerseys and other signed stuff.”
His childhood meet and greets with local players led to sending away for autographs. Like thousands of other collectors he puts a couple of cards or other items in an envelope with a short, personal letter containing his request and a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE in the TTM world).
Returns aren’t always as successful as they once were. Famous Hall of Famers, provided you could get their address, were once usually pretty good about responding but eventually as word got out, they were crushed under an avalanche of requests and occasional greediness and had to stop. Still, many do try to accommodate fans as long as the requests are genuine and limited to one or two items.
Most envelopes that are returned show up in the mailbox within a month or two.
Some travel with the players and are mailed from a different location than they were addressed. Rutter scored a Clayton Kershaw signature on an Upper Deck card that was sent to the team’s spring training camp and shipped from Texas, where Kershaw grew up and lives in the off-season.
Then there are those seemingly lost in a black hole that later emerge like a really amazing boomerang toss. Letters that collectors sent to former Phillies pitcher Don Carman in the 1990’s got lost in the shuffle and after discovering a box of unanswered mail, the undaunted former hurler signed and delivered– 15 years later.
David Robinson, who signs via the mail for donations to his foundation, took 4 ½ years to respond to Rutter’s request, but the affable Admiral wrote a short note apologizing for the wait and returned his check.
The caution flag was out while Rutter waited on Racer Denny Hamlin (1690 days) and Greg Biffle (over four years). The wait for NFL lineman Jake Long? Very long. Rutter waited 842 days to get his signed Miami Dolphins card back. By that time, Long had become a free agent and signed with the St. Louis Rams.
Rutter says the Fontes autograph has the record, though.
And there’s always hope today’s mail will bring another item to add to his collection.
“I still have a bunch that are MIA.”