Sunday, April 19, 2015

Signatures for Soldiers giving a boost to military veterans through baseball

Tim Virgilio had found a way to celebrate two of America’s most prominent institutions, baseball and the United States Military. The Georgia resident has enlisted over 100 retired major league baseball players to donate autographed baseball cards to raise funds for Military Missions in Action. A project that started with some loose baseball cards around the house has quickly turned into a wide reaching charitable undertaking.

“I started Signatures for Soldiers in November, 2014,” Virgilio said. “It initially started as an idea to use some of the baseball cards that I had sitting around that I collected as a kid to get signed and sell to help raise money for charity. I’ve always enjoyed collecting autographs as a hobby and decided that this would be a fun way to try to raise a few dollars.”
Courtesy of Signatures for Soldiers
While Virgilio and his wife were living in North Carolina, they became involved with MMIA right around its inception in 2008. Impressed by the financially prudent work that MMIA was doing for disabled veterans and their families by providing home repairs and renovations at no cost, choosing to raise awareness for their cause was an easy decision.

“I’ve always had a passion for supporting the men and women of the military who chose to do a job that less than 1% of our population chooses to do,” he said. “MMIA has done great things for our nation’s disabled veterans by providing over $3.5 million worth of services since being founded, [while] keeping their administrative costs [less than] 10% annually. Because of how fiscally responsible they have been, I have chosen to make MMIA my charity of choice.”

In only six months, the response from the baseball family has been incredible. Many players not only jumped at the opportunity to be involved, they even furnished their own material for Virgilio to offer up to collectors.

“There are a few players who have really gone above and beyond up to this point in their assistance,” he said. “Jim Leyritz has been wonderful and I’ve had the opportunity to speak with him on several occasions about this project and others. Woody Williams is another player who has been absolutely wonderful. I had quickly sold out of the cards that he signed and when I informed him of this, he then sent me 25 cards, 25 postcards, and 10 8x10 photos all signed from his own personal collection.”
Courtesy of Signatures for Soldiers

In addition to the players who have volunteered their time and effort to sign autographs for Signatures for Soldiers, the collecting community has rallied around the cause. Baseball fans and collectors have not only bought the autographed cards to raise money for MMIA, they have donated their own cards so that Virgilio could send them to the players to build the charity’s inventory.

“The response from [both the] fans and collectors has been awesome,” he said. “I’ve been able to help some collectors who have been trying to add a certain autograph to their collection. … I’ve had people who are fans of a particular player and don’t necessarily collect autographs, but have paid above and beyond what I’ve asked for the autograph because they are a fan of the player and want to help support a charity that does a lot of good for disabled veterans. I’ve had collectors who have donated extra signed cards that they’ve had in their collection for me to sell and raise money for MMIA. Overall, the support has been great.”

All of the proceeds that Virgilio has raised goes directly to MMIA. As of this writing, he has raised over $3,000, which was his original goal when he started Signatures for Soldiers. Surpassing that amount in less than six month, fueled by an overwhelming response from his supporters, he has plans to expand the program as the baseball season progresses.

“I’ve had to rethink my goal for this whole program,” he said. “I’ve focused primarily on retired players and the response has been great. Since the season is underway, I’m really going to reach out to more active players to see what type of support I may be able to receive.”

While the program has quickly expanded much faster than Virgilio had imagined, he plans to push forward as long as the journey will allow. It has been an enjoyable ride that he doesn’t plan to abandon for the foreseeable future.

“I’ve had so much fun with this and have had the opportunity to talk with such great people (both players and non-players),” he said, “that I just can’t see myself giving it up anytime soon. Plus, I have over 1500 signed cards and other items that I have to sell with more items coming in every day. Until I run out of items to sell, I plan to continue to do this.”

If you want to help Signatures for Soldiers, reach out to Tim Virgilio directly via e-mail -

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Baseball Happenings Podcast: Charlton Jimerson discusses his new book, 'Against All Odds'

Charlton Jimerson, former major league outfielder with the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners, discusses in the latest Baseball Happenings Podcast episde, the motivation for writing his autobiography, "Against All Odds: A Success Story." Jimerson tells how he rose up from a a childhood dominated by instability that would have defeated most future ballplayers before they ever took the field.

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Monday, April 6, 2015

Harley Hisner, 88, gave up DiMaggio's last regular season hit

The thought of facing Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle in the same lineup would make any pitcher restless, but for Harley Hisner, the uneasiness he felt on September 30, 1951 was for a much different reason. He wasn’t shaken by their feared bats, but by the 35,000 fans that would be in attendance when he made his major league debut in a Boston Red Sox uniform at Yankee Stadium.

“I was awake a few times worrying about the game, pitching in front of all of them people,” Hisner said during a 2008 phone interview.

Hisner passed away in Fort Wayne, Indiana on March 20, 2015 at the age of 88. The World War II veteran only had one major league appearance, but his name is forever associated with those Yankees legends from the game he pitched on the last day of the 1951 season.

Harley Hisner / Author's Collection
The first batter he faced in his debut was a 19-year-old Mickey Mantle. The “Commerce Comet,” was in finishing his first major league season, one in which he spent time shuttling between New York and their Triple-A farm club in Kansas City. While pitching for Louisville earlier in the season, Hisner faced Mantle on multiple occasions. Undaunted by the presence of the young upstart, he promptly struck out Mantle to start his big league career.

After giving up a single to Phil Rizzuto and inducing Hank Bauer to hit in to a force out, the great Joe DiMaggio strolled to the plate. Closing the chapter on an illustrious Hall of Fame career, DiMaggio was on display for the Yankee fans one last time. The Red Sox manager Steve O’Neill gave the rookie advice on how to approach the Yankee Clipper.

“He said, ‘Joe − pitch him in on the fists, he can’t hit the good fastball anymore,’” Hisner recalled in a 2013 interview with

The rookie dutifully followed his manager’s instructions, fearlessly going at DiMaggio with his first pitch. Hisner battled the great center fielder, but in the end DiMaggio won out, scratching out a single for what would be the last of his 2,214 major league hits.

“First pitch I threw him, he hit the damn thing in the upper deck left field, foul,” he said during the interview. “I said, ‘Uh oh,’ but I came right back with a fastball and I got it where I wanted it. He hit it on the fists; he hit it down between third and short, the shortstop fielded it, but he couldn’t throw him out. That was Joe’s last hit.”

Hisner pitched six innings against the eventual World Series champs (including another strike out of Mantle), surrendering three runs on seven hits. The Red Sox couldn’t muster even one run in support of his efforts, despite Hisner contributing at the plate with a fifth inning single of his own.

“I batted off of Spec Shea and got a hit,” he said during the 2008 interview. “It looks like a line drive in the paper, but it was a dying quail over Johnny Mize’s head into right field. They thought it was a line drive somewhere!”

Hisner was the only rookie pitcher that was called up in September to get a start for the Red Sox. His fortunes banked on the team locking down their place in the division before the end of the season. O’Neill wasn’t going to chance a potential bonus to a rookie’s nervous arm.

“Allie Reynolds threw a no-hitter against us on Saturday before the season ended,” he said. “That was when we had fourth place sewn up. Steve O’Neill told me when I got there two weeks before, ‘Whenever we get a place sewed up, you’re pitching the next day.’ Well, we didn’t get a place sewed up until the next to last day of the season. After Reynolds threw a no-hitter against us, he said, ‘You’re pitching tomorrow.’ No other pitcher that was called up got to pitch.”

Despite his promising start, Hisner would never reach the major leagues again. He was invited to spring training the following season, but with O’Neill out and Lou Boudreau in as the Red Sox new manager, Hisner lost his champion at the helm. They sent him back to Louisville to work on becoming a reliever. When an opportunity came mid-season for Hisner to return to Boston, he was passed over in favor of Al Benton.

“In 1952, they were making a relief pitcher out of me,” he said. “In the first week in July, Boston needed a relief pitcher. San Diego had one. Boston always had a verbal agreement with them. They traded me and Al Richter to San Diego for Al Benton.”

Hisner finished the season with San Diego in the Pacific Coast League and spent one more year with Wichita Falls in the Big State League in 1953. With his hopes deflated from his demotion, Hisner called it quits after his time in Wichita Falls.

"I didn't want him to give it up," his wife Anna said to the Decatur Daily Democrat in 2011. "I never did. But he was getting tired of moving around."

His love for the game couldn’t keep him away from the diamond. He played semi-pro ball in Fort Wayne until he was 37. One of his semi-pro highlights came at the 1957 National Baseball Congress tournament, where he led Fort Wayne to the finals after pitching 38 innings in 11 days, almost tying Satchel Paige’s 1935 record for most wins in the tournament.

“In 1957, we came in second place out in Wichita," he said in 2008, "Texas beat us in the finals. Clint Hartung hit a home run off me in the 10th inning and I only had one day rest off of it. I pitched a nine inning game against Arizona and had one day rest; then I went 10 innings until Hartung hit that home run off me. I can still see that ball in flight! It went over the center field lights. Satchel Paige won five games for South Dakota in 1935 and I came near to tying it. I won the first four games and lost the last game. I threw 38 innings out there in 1957 in 11 days.”

Hisner worked with the Rea Magnet Wire Company until his retirement in 1987. Despite his singular appearance in a major league box score, Hisner remained popular with baseball fans who sought the autograph of the man who stood tall against the mighty New York Yankees.

“I got requests more this year than any other year,” he said in 2008. “I probably got 75-85 this year.”