It has often been said that in life it’s not so much as to what you know but who you know. It’s especially true in the case of Hank Bentley.
Now a successful song writer and producer of mostly Christian music living in Nashville, Bentley grew up in Texas during the late 1980s and early 90s as a big baseball fan. When he wasn’t playing with friends during the day, he was collecting baseball cards old and new.
Bentley’s obsession with the game caught the attention of a family friend named DiAnn Kiner, the wife of Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner. The Kiners would often attend functions where baseball royalty gathered.
At some point, DiAnn made young Hank an offer. Supply her with baseball cards he wanted autographed and DiAnn would do her best to make it happen.
“They would go to these Hall of Fame get-togethers and dinners and she would try to get me autographs of the people they had access to that often didn’t like to sign,” Bentley recalled.
DiAnn would then report back to Hank with hand-written letters, enclosing the newly signed treasures for her young friend.
Bentley was amazed by some of the Hall of Famers that DiAnn had access to.
“She sent Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams and that was pretty amazing. That was a big deal for me because those are the heroes that we grew up hearing about,” Bentley said.
In one of the five letters DiAnn Kiner sent to Bentley from 1989 to 1991 she explained her hesitancy in trying to get the DiMaggio autograph.
“Dear Hank, Can you believe it I finally got Joe DiMaggio’s autograph for you? I still have Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, and Nolan Ryan to get. But I haven’t seen them yet. Your dad says you’re pitching great. P.S. Don’t ever trade this card he doesn’t like to give out autographs and is rude about it. He sells them for $200.00 so he doesn’t like to give them away. I had Ralph get this one for me and it’s authentic because I saw him sign it so keep it please.”
In another letter she wrote, “Enclosed are your cards. You’ll be so excited when you see how many signed. I’m taking the liberty of keeping the following cards I may see later.”
That list, Bentley remembers, included Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Lou Brock, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Yogi Berra and Nolan Ryan.
DiAnn Kiner passed away from cancer in 2004, preceding her husband, who died in 2014 at the age of 91.
It’s been many years and Bentley can’t remember if he ever met DiAnn in person but the letters that reveal her generosity are precious to him.
Out of all of the letters he kept, Bentley does have a favorite.
“One of them is written on a New York Mets Ralph Kiner letterhead and she wrote ‘Mrs.’ in front of the Ralph Kiner,” he said.
Bentley has done very little with the cards since he first got them but calls his collection a family treasure.
“They’ve been sitting in the same little binder for years and years but a couple of them I put in cases,” Bentley said. ““I have never really priced them out and never really considered selling them. It’s a pretty special thing that we have them. All the autographs just kind of protected at this point and I imagine we’ll figure out in terms of how to divvy them up over the years to come.”
In the meantime, he continues to marvel and appreciate the long ago kindness extended by a couple of special friends who brought him closer to some of the game’s greatest legends.