Baseball And Stamps Have Intriguing Links


Being a collector kind of guy when I was a kid I naturally enough saved baseball cards and also had a minor league stamp collection. I didn’t keep up the stamp collection, though I still have the ones I acquired decades ago. Kind of quaint to look at them and realize the expensive ones represented postage for a dime.

Anyway, off and on over the years I co-mingled the two hobbies when the U.S. Postal Service issued baseball stamps and they seemed attractive. I sprung for the occasional first-day-of-issue cover. But I never took a step back and looked at the links between U.S. stamps and the U.S. National Pastime until last week when I was in Cooperstown and for the first time since 1993 the Postal Service held a first-day-of-issue unveiling of new baseball stamps inside the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The slick new stamps honor Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Larry Doby and Willie Stargell. They’re all labeled “Forever” stamps, which means they cost more than a nickel each. Both inside the Hall of Fame and across the street at Cooperstown’s post office, first-day covers and pages of stamps were available for purchase.

The connection between the two American institutions was explored in some detail as the stamps were trotted out. And you know it was a big deal because the highest levels of brass in the post office came for the occasion. Heck, this was probably the best day these guys have had all year since nobody was talking about their half-billion-dollar deficits, dropping Saturday mail delivery and the like, or prodding them to make layoffs.

Baseball and stamps have been connected since 1939 when someone thought it would be a grand idea to issue a 100th anniversary stamp commemorating the alleged creation of the sport. Much fanfare attended this event in Cooperstown, which was thrilled to be opening the Hall of Fame. On June 12, 1939 the Hall opened and the stamp was issued. James Farley, Postmaster General of the United States, traveled to Cooperstown and a big show was made of him selling the first stamp to Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. It was a 3-cent stamp.

What I never knew is how many baseball stamps have been produced since. There are more than 50, including Hall of Famers such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Jackie Robinson, and Honus Wagner, as well as the new guys. There was also a 10-stamp stadium set.

Also in conjunction with the issuance of the four new stamps and the timing to match the induction of new Hall of Famers Barry Larkin and Ron Santo, the postal service put out a new magazine/booklet highlighting its history with baseball. It is called “Play Ball! Great Moments In Major League Baseball History.”

Among the stamps pictured in the booklet are the 2008 “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” commemorative marking the 100th anniversary of baseball’s favorite song; the 2010 Negro Leagues Baseball stamp featuring Rube Foster, the man who founded the Negro National League in 1920; and the 20-stamp set of baseball heroes from 2000 including Mickey Mantle, Jimmie Foxx, Tris Speaker, Rogers Hornsby and Satchel Paige. All of them are 33-cent stamps.

It is a gorgeously illustrated booklet that makes you want to run out to the nearest post office to buy stamps, but not to use on letters, just to save and display.