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Jewish World Review August 12, 2002 / 4 Elul, 5762

Bob Greene

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The gift that came
in the mail one day | Gods may not answer letters -- as John Updike wrote in his famous story about Ted Williams' final baseball game for the Boston Red Sox -- but on occasion they will return a postcard.

I have proof of it.

These have been somewhat melancholy days for the memory of Ted Williams, but the postcard he sent to a boy in Detroit in 1948 speaks volumes not just about Williams, but about the world in which professional athletes once lived.

The postcard was shown to me by a man named Don Lobsinger, who is 67 and who lives in St. Clair Shores, Mich. As a boy, he used to go to Briggs Stadium to watch the Detroit Tigers play, and when the Red Sox would come to town, things felt very special:

"For me, it was a thrill every time just to see Ted Williams step out of that Boston dugout, and walk up to the next-batter-up position, taking his long strides, swinging the bat and waiting his turn.

"There seemed to be a hush that came over the stadium. Then, there was the even greater thrill of seeing him step into the batter's box and stand at the plate, awaiting the pitch which one felt sure he would send for a ride into the stands in deep right field. . . . Yes, Ted Williams did exude the presence of a god. I know, because I, among thousands of others, felt it."

Which brings us to the postcard.

Don Lobsinger, like many boys in the 1940s and 1950s, would routinely send envelopes to big-league stadiums, addressed to their favorite ballplayers. Inside the envelopes would be pre-paid postcards, addressed back to the sender. The hope would be that the ballplayer, sitting at his locker, would open the letter, would take a moment to sign the postcard, and would drop it in a mailbox.

The amazing thing is, it happened all the time. The ballplayers actually did it.

(I will tell you why I am so certain of this in a moment.)

Ted Williams did it -- on June 19, 1948, he dropped a postcard in the mail to 13-year-old Don Lobsinger, who at the time lived at 5918 Drexel in Detroit. That's what I'm looking at, right now -- Ted Williams' signature on a postcard that cost a penny to mail.

Today's famous athletes charge money to sign their names. They have agents and office staffs to deal with their mail. And even if a world-famous ballplayer did put a postcard with his signature in the mail . . . well, as Mr. Lobsinger said: "The marvelous thing is that these postcards actually did make it to my mailbox." No one grabbed the postcards along the way; no one seeing the signatures of Ted Williams and Stan Musial and Bob Feller and Joe DiMaggio (to whom young Don Lobsinger also sent the blank postcards) swiped them before they made it to the boy's house.

The reason I am so taken by Mr. Lobsinger's story is that I used to do the same thing -- in the 1950s and into the early 1960s, my friends and I would send envelopes to stadiums and arenas all the time, with the blank pre-paid postcards inside. For us, the ballplayers -- baseball, football, basketball -- were as distant as the moon, yet as close as Soskin's Drugstore on Main Street, where we could purchase stiff cardboard trading cards bearing their photographs, wrapped in waxy paper along with an equally stiff pink slab of dry bubble gum. It made the ballplayers seem bigger, those little trading cards did -- bigger than any billboard.

And we'd send our letters to the famed stadiums -- and the postcards would actually come back. A thrill beyond describing -- I remember one day at 2722 Bryden Rd. in my hometown, the mailman arriving, and there, with the bills and magazines for my parents, was the postcard. Postmarked Boston, Mass. With the signature of Bob Cousy, the magnificent guard for the Boston Celtics. It defied belief -- Bob Cousy had signed the card and sent it back.

Years later, when he and I met, I tried to describe to him just how big a deal it was. He smiled. He said he used to do it all the time. There were dead hours before a game -- why not sign the postcards that kids sent to him?

Gods don't answer letters? They did, some of the time. I'm looking at two words right now, written in script: "Ted Williams." Right on the back of a penny postcard, more precious than gold.

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JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. His latest book is Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.

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