OAKLAND, Calif. — Ray Fosse refuses to oblige a fan requesting his autograph next to Pete Rose's signature on a photo of their 1970 All-Star Game collision. Dave Roberts leans on his mother-in-law to handle the influx of fan mail he still receives daily from appreciative folks in Boston, an effort to speed responses almost as swiftly as his famous swipe of second. Oakland outfielder Rajai Davis doesn't touch the growing pile in his clubhouse cubby, insisting his job is just to play baseball and he will sign for anyone who asks in person.
From retired stars to current favorites, major leaguers deal with the sometimes daunting influx of fan mail in many different ways.
Even the busiest of ballplayers who might prefer to leave the letters to stack up over a six-month season seem to have a soft spot for the little ones — and, yes, they can clearly tell kid-written notes by their far-from-perfect penmanship.
Catcher Stephen Vogt recently got caught up on two years' worth of fan mail . He remembers being that child collecting autographs at every chance, so he knows just how much it can mean.
"That was one thing my dad always taught us was when we go to a baseball game you ask politely for an autograph. If they don't give it to you, that's fine, they were busy," Vogt said last month before he went from Oakland to playing for Milwaukee. "Understanding that they have a job to do and their job isn't to sign autographs, their job is to play baseball. But some guys will sign them and it's cool if you can get them. I appreciate especially when people take time to put a handwritten letter in there, 'Hey, we're a big fan of you, this is why.' We really appreciate those things. We never get a chance to thank the fans for doing that."
Supporters from Boston and beyond still thank Roberts for his postseason stolen base off Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada in Game 4 of the 2004 AL Championship Series, when the Red Sox were three outs from being swept by the rival Yankees.
With Boston down 4-3 in the ninth at Fenway Park, Roberts pinch ran after Kevin Millar's leadoff walk. After diving back three times on pickoff attempts, Roberts swiped second and scored on Bill Mueller's single. Boston won 6-4 in 12 innings then became the first team in major league history to overcome a 3-0 deficit and win a postseason series. Roberts did not play as the Red Sox swept St. Louis for their first championship since 1918, but remains beloved throughout New England.
"Every day," Roberts said of arriving mail. "Do I answer them? I read 'em but a lot of it is 'thanks' and 'sign something.' I get to back to them but I don't respond, 'Thank you for their support.'"
Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson still shakes his head at how hard he tried to get Reggie Jackson's autograph for his entire youth, even sneaking into the Oakland Coliseum as a boy growing up in the East Bay.
"I signed most everything. I probably was that guy, because I had a hard time when I was growing up trying to get autographs," Henderson recalled. "Because Reggie dogged me so much I almost wanted to hang him many times, 'Hey, I don't even like you no more.' But he was my idol. I used to get in trouble, I used to go home and I'd get on punishment because I was waiting on that. Ahhh! I told him that all the time."
So there was Henderson doing his list of chores such as cleaning up, washing dishes, mowing the lawn.
At age 71 and retired since the end of his 21-season career in 1987, Jackson gets it now.
He actually relishes going through his mail and remains committed to answering the roughly 100 pieces he receives each week.
"When you're young, you don't realize a lot of that stuff. I'm old enough to realize it's still special," Jackson said. "The fan mail, you get kids that sit down and say the shortest little ... make the shortest comment. You know they're sincere and stuff like that. And they've sat down and scratched out what they wanted to say to you. I read a lot of it, because it's short, it's all over the page. It looks like they were in the ocean when they were writing it. I appreciate it and admire it and I'm grateful that it comes."
His assistant's assistant handles opening the mail. Jackson does his part to prepare it for return.
"All of it," Jackson said matter-of-factly, "all of it is pretty good. We don't get anything bad."
Fosse finally put his foot down with that one perturbing fan request. When a Kansas City employee chased him down requesting he sign alongside Rose on the collision photo, the former catcher and current Oakland broadcaster declined.
There are some courtesies those signing appreciate: pre-paid postage.
Fosse notes it was far more affordable back then. These days, there's a fairly standard rule.
"SASE, self-addressed stamped envelope," otherwise no deal, said Fosse, who receives 200-300 pieces per year.
Oh, and Fosse notices when something he has recently signed shows up on eBay.
"There are people that want vintage cards signed," Fosse said. "These guys today, I can't even imagine."
In a social-media era and greater demands, players pick their moments.
"You definitely appreciate the effort and try to sign it for them," Seattle's Kyle Seager said. "There's a couple ways guys will do it. Some guys will do it when they first get to the park, some guys when they get back from a road trip you've got your mail box right there and you can go in there and check it out. Usually you walk by there and get a few and try to get it back out there. Something from a kid or something like that definitely goes to the top of the list."