How to Get (Almost) Free Autographs Through the Mail
Usually, mail is all about the bills, bills, bills. Imagine reaching into the box and pulling out autograph after autograph of your favorite athletes and celebrities. Sounds even pricier that the mortgage payments, right? Wrong. Many athletes will sign your cards for free. The only cost to you is a couple of stamps.
Here's everything you need to know about through-the-mail (TTM) autographs.
Pick Your Targets
Before you mail away for any autographs, you need to decide who you're going to write to. It's important to remember that not all athletes sign autographs through the mail. As a general rule, the bigger the star, the less likely you are to hear back. That said, over the years I haven't heard a peep from some bit players, while I had Tony Gwynn write back in less than a month during his playing days.
The most popular players are the ones who get the most mail. So even if they do sign, you might have to wait a while to hear back. But then again, sometimes the bit players can take a while, too.
Because getting TTM autographs usually involves sending mail directly to a team, don't limit your targets to just players. You can follow these same rules to try to get autographs from managers, coaches, front office staff and even announcers. Many of these staffers are former players too. To find a list of major personnel, check out your favorite team's website.
Now that you've got your target (or targets), let's get to the meat of your request, the letter.
Requesting an Autograph
The key to any TTM autograph request is the letter. It's important that you come off as genuine and not someone looking to cash in on their signature (although there's no law against selling TTM autographs). Here are a few simple things to think about when you're writing a letter.
1. Be a Fan
It's important to butter up someone before you ask for a favor. Think back to when you were a kid. If you wanted money for the movies, it often either involved bringing in an extra load of wood, a day of truces with your younger sibling or making sure the garbage went out the night before. Everyone responds better when they feel cared for, including athletes.
Take a bit of time to tell the person you're writing too why you're a fan. Don't go on for 2,000 words about why their batting mechanics are the best in the history of the game, but show them that you know who they are. For example, if you're writing to Josh Hamilton, you might want to point out you're a fan of his home runs, clutch hitting or even his tattoos. Don't tell them they're your favorite player if they're not, but have something nice to say. A brief complimentary paragraph or two helps the player see that you're a fan.
2. Keep It Brief
In your letter, don't ramble. Players don't always have a lot of time for mail. A TTM letter should have an intro, fan statement, autograph request and a thank-you. Simple, direct and brief. If your letter is more than a page and your purpose is to request a signature, it's probably too long.
3. Write, Don't Type
Although times have changed and typed documents are increasingly common, I'd still say it's better to write out an autograph request by hand and not typing it. A hand-written note takes time and players will likely recognize this. It also adds to the personal touch of a request.
Typed letters can be done with a template and churned out fast. If a letter doesn't sound authentic, the chances of getting a signature back could drop dramatically.
Getting the Package Together
After you've written your letter, it's time to get the things you need. Besides your note, you're going to need something to get signed (cards or index cards are the easiest to get through the mail), a self-addressed stamped envelope and something to keep the return envelope sturdy.
When you're picking a card to get signed, try to find one in your collection that isn't super glossy. This way, the ink will stay on better. Sets like Topps Heritage, Upper Deck Masterpieces and Topps Total are great among modern sets. If none of these are an option, you can also rub the front of a card for a bit to take some of the gloss off and prevent the signature from beading up.
If you don't have a trading card of the person you're writing to, an index or recipe card can also work. They look great framed and matted underneath an 8 x 10 photo. Plus, they're cheap. Your local dollar store should have packs of them.
Limit your request to no more than two signatures. Even then, one is best. The last thing you want to do is come off as greedy or inconsiderate. If you really need someone's signature six times, send multiple requests (but not all at once). Also, because you're not guaranteed to get your cards back, don't send anything valuable or items with sentimental value.
Even though the person you're writing to probably makes millions of dollars a year, don't expect them to pay for the stamp to get the card back to you. A must for every TTM autograph request is a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE). Simply write an envelope out to yourself and put the stamp on it. Then once the card is signed, the player just has to put the card in the SASE, seal it and drop it in the mailbag. The easier you make it for them, the more likely you are to get your autograph.
It's also a good idea to include a piece of cardboard or top loader in the SASE to keep the package from bending. Just don't expect your card to be put inside it. Remember, convenience is one of the keys to TTM success. Before a game, players don't want to be fooling around with card supplies. Even worse, some might not recognize the top loader as being a holder and instead of getting a signed card you'll have an even rarer plastic case.
Once you have your hand-written letter, item you want signed, SASE and sturdy card protector, bring it all together in a business envelope and get it ready for mailing.
Where to Send Your Autograph Requests
The best place to send you autographs is directly to the team they play for or are associated with. Use the following format:
City, STATE Zip
or, a more practical example:
c/o Texas Rangers
Rangers Ballpark in Arlington
1000 Ballpark Way
Arlington, TX 76011
Here are links to pages with team mailing addresses:
Other places you might want to send TTM requests include spring training facilities, minor league affiliates or other places they might be hanging out at like TV studios.
Collectors should be aware that some players have other people sign on their behalf or use an autopen for manufactured signatures. For these reasons, it's advised that TTM autographs be used for personal collections.
Not every player signs and others can take an eternity to get back to you, but I've had more successes than failures. Some players even go a little further, inscribing the cards or adding something extra like a postcard. TTM autographs are a fun, easy and inexpensive way to build a killer collection of signatures.
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