Friday, February 11, 2011

Unpossible Autograph Friday- Tom Gastall

Almost two years ago when I started this project, I pegged Tom as being a possible "White Whale" for my project. Well, the White Whale has been landed. I picked up this wonderfully imperfect signed note sheet for the collection.

Tom Gastall was a "bonus-baby" catcher for the Orioles in 1955 & '56 and played 52 games over those two seasons. (As far as I understand it, bonus-babies were like first round draft picks today, except they were technically free agents since there wasn't a draft and it was stipulated that they spend their first two seasons with the big league club that signed them.) The O's obviously thought that Tom had some real potential to blossom. He was very athletic and had been a three sport star in high school and college, excelling at baseball, basketball & football, and was even drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1955.

Tom secretly was learning how to fly so he could play winter ball in Venezuela and had bought a used plane for practice. On September 20, 1956 Tom's plane crashed into the Chesapeake Bay. After five days of searching, his body was discovered by rescuers; Tom's life was over at age 24. On the 50th anniversary of Tom's death, John Eisenberg wrote a great article in the Baltimore Sun about him. John does a much better job than I ever could of writing about the tragic events surrounding Tom's life and death, so check out the link.

Because Tom passed away so many years ago, his autograph is hard to track down. There have been a few signatures posted on ebay priced in the hundreds of dollars which is well out of my price range. The same autographs keep popping up and not selling, so I think the owners might be pricing Tom's autograph a little too high. This above unsigned picture (image borrowed from ebay) is even listed for $100. It's obviously the picture that was used to make his Crown card, which is his only Orioles card and was created 35 years after his death, so he obviously never signed one of them. I picked up my signed note sheet on ebay for a very reasonable price, and am thrilled to have an autograph of a player who died so long ago. You're next Howie Fox!

Since I wrote that post in March 2009, I've discovered that their might be a few autographs of other former Orioles that are harder to obtain because the players "disappeared" for many years following their playing careers. The only autographs that exist of them would've had to have been signed during their playing careers and survived over many years. Regardless, I'm thrilled to have an autograph of a player who has been dead for almost 55 years.

RIP Tom.


zman40 said...

Great post. I thought the HoF UAF was going to be hard to beat, but I actually found this one to be more interesting, mainly because I hadn't heard Gastall's story before. Thanks for sharing.

Congrats on your White Whale!

Billy said...

Wow, I'd never heard this story before. Great post, and even though it might not be the greatest quality auto sometimes I feel those scraps of paper with autos have a more 'authentic' feel.

kmsals said...

Great "Get" in finding a Gatsall auto. I enjoy reading the stories of the old and new O's players. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

In 1956, just a few weeks before he died the Orioles were playing the Red Sox at Fenway. I was 12 years old and like Tom Gastall, I was from Fall River, Ma. The Orioles were winning and were going to put outfielder, Jim Pyburn, in for defensive purposes. Gastall was warming him-up in the Orioles bullpen. There were a bunch of kids hanging over the bullpen..I was one of them. After Pyburn was warmed-up, we all asked Gastall to toss the ball to us. He did and i
I was lucky enough to catch it. I yelled to Gastall that I was from Fall River and would he sign the ball? He did come over, asked me my name and it turned out that he knew my father. He signed the ball and I still have it after 56 years. Probably the last ball that he signed.

Orioles Magic said...

Anon-Thanks for the great story! I love the behind the scenes info!