Jewish Autograph Collecting
By Alan Trost
I am a huge collector of Jewish football memorabilia, particularly correspondences, letters & autographs. Over the last 8 or 9 years, I have written to many former Jewish athletes, not only from the major sports, but particularly from the minor sports like fencing, track & field, rowing, swimming, etc,
where a lot of the older athletes were Jewish. When I write to them, I wouldn't so much ask them about their athletic achievements, but rather more of their "Jewishness". My questions asked things like "how observant were you while you were a great Jewish athlete", "what was it like being a Jewish athlete at that time", "had you experienced any anti-semitism", were you friends with athletes who were not Jewish, etc,
I got started in the hobby when I acquired a book on Jewish boxers and started writing to these former Jewish boxers for autographs. Then, I bought other books on Jewish athletes from all sports and expanded my collection from boxing to other sports, especially football. Nowadays, I'll write to former athletes from every sport conceivable, but I've been concentrating on football as of late. I do not necessarily concentrate on former professional (NFL or its predecessors) players. I have written to former notable college players who never played professionally.
People ask how do I know which former athletes are Jewish or not? I rely on a few different Jewish sources, mainly books, publications, and web sites devoted to Jewish athletes. Sometimes, the experts on Jewish athletes have been wrong. There have been times when I've received a correspondence back from the person that they appreciate the letter, but said they are not Jewish. The long time football player, coach, and administrator Franklin "Pepper" Rogers is one such case.
Also, there are players that were born & raised Jewish, were Jewish while playing, but converted out of Judaism after they retired. Former NFL place-kicker, Gerald "Booth" Lusteg became a Christian after retiring. While with the Buffalo Bills, he still shares the record with former Bills' kicker Scott Norwood, hitting seven PAT's (Point After Touchdown) against the Miami Dolphins. He played with three different teams over the next three seasons. He finished his career with 39 games in his NFL and accomplished a field goal percentage of .467 (35-for-75) and was 97-of-101 on PAT's.
And, there a few like former New England Patriots star linebacker Andre Tippett, who converted to Judaism after his playing day.
1. In your opinion, why is it that those following the Jewish religion have a tendency to enjoy collecting historical items ?
I think it may having to do because of wanting to document, acquire, preserve, and disseminate information of the history of the Jewish People in America. We recently celebrated 350 years of Jewish Life in America and there were a lot of Jewish exhibits through the United States. Without this historical memorabilia, the stories we tell and the artifacts we preserve could be lost to future generations. The Jewish historical societies ensure that the records are kept, the history is told and the shared heritage is not forgotten.
The American Jewish Historical Society has produced commemorative sets of baseball cards. This set documented the 142 American Jews who had played major-league baseball from the 1870s to the 2003 All-Star break. Thirty-three of these players had never appeared on a commercially distributed baseball card, and another nine appeared on cards only as minor-leaguers. They sought to present an educational tool in connection to the 350th anniversary of Jews arriving in America and created a phenomenon. They have produced an update set for 2006.
2. In your correspondence with Jewish athletes, have you noticed any traits about their replies that are consistent?
Yes, when I ask them why there are not more current Jewish athletes, the most consistent response is that the families value education over sports and realize that no one can ever take education away from the student.
Also, when I asked them if they experienced any anti-semitism, some of the older Jewish football players responded that opponents were "playing extra rough" (extra pushing, holding, etc,
), but the newer Jewish player wasn't sure and didn't necessarily think it was anti-semitism, but rather that they didn't like their opponents.
3. What is more important to you as a collector and why: The value of a piece of a memorabilia or the experience and memory associated with obtaining that memento?
The letters, correspondences, and/or autographs in my football memorabilia collection are not really that much monetarily valuable, but are extremely important & interesting from a social & cultural historical standpoint.
When I write to players, I am more interested in sociological questions like "How religious/observant are/were you?" and if they personally experienced any anti-semitism from any teammates or opponents and how they handled it rather than the typical football questions like how was it like to play against so and so. What's most important to me is the correspondence, especially a handwritten letter addressing my questions.
Often times, I have gotten some really nice hand written letters from athletes that are thrilled to be remembered. Sometimes the former athlete would call me on the telephone because they are so curious & fascinated that I wanted their autograph. They would say they had rarely received an autograph request before. Over the years, I have talked to several former Jewish football players having terrific phone conversations. I've kept in contact with a few over the years.
Many times, especially from the current or recently retired former players, I'll get an autograph, but often I'm disappointed because they didn't respond to my questions.
4. As a Jewish collector, do you feel that it is more important to be concerned about not overpaying for an item or to not get caught up an impulse buy that you might regret?
As a Jewish collector, it is very important to me in both not overpaying for an item and to not get caught up an impulse buy that I might regret. I have tried to be very judicial with my spending. I once purchase an expensive photo of a Jewish boxer that I regretted buying. Fortunately, I was able to sell it for what I had payed for it.
The focus of my Jewish sports memorabilia has always been autographs, letters, & correspondence. However, I have recently decided to collect "selective" cards of Jewish players, but have concentrated really only on football. Keep in mind that I am collecting these vintage cards in very bad (ungraded) condition. I can not afford the higher grade condition cards.
5. Generally speaking, which sport (We know you have collected many including hockey and boxing) has yielded the most favorable responses from those in which you have to written to and why might do you think that is?
I have found that the older athletes (regardless of the sport) have generally yielded me the best responses. Many of them are retired and they sincerely are thrilled to be remembered & enjoy writing about their athletic achievements and their life afterwards. Many times they rave about how good their young grandchildren will be!!!
I have also gotten pretty good responses from young teenage Jewish athletes that are thrilled to have fans & support as they attempt amateur level competition (i.e. tennis, golf, and gymnastics).
As you can imagine, the poorest responses, in general, have come from the more established professional, current big name Jewish athlete regardless of sport. Athletes like Shawn Green (baseball), Paul Goldstein (tennis), Sasha Cohen (figure skating), Sarah Hughes (figure skating) generally do not response that much for whatever reasons.
from the August 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine