MISCELLANY > 1975 Atlanta Braves signed ball

February 10, 2011

Last summer when I was in Toronto, my friend Kraig (yep, with a K) came to visit. He brought a baseball with him that he bought in a Goodwill store in his hometown, Portland, OR. It had a lot of signatures on it. It's not in the mintest of conditions, but it cost 99 cents. Before he left Portland, he'd checked some of the names online and came to the conclusion that it was signed by the 1975 Atlanta Braves. The 67-94, 5th place in the NL West, 1975 Atlanta Braves.

A couple of weeks ago, I thought about the ball. Where the heck was it? I checked my backpack, my suitcase, and the pile of stuff that's just a big mess behind the closet door. Nowhere. Eventually, I found it inside a sock stuffed into one of my cleats. In the pair of cleats, I found a total of four pairs of socks, which was an unexpected bonus. But, back to the ball. Here are some pictures:

It's not that I didn't trust him, but I wanted to check for myself and to see who everyone on that ball was. There were more players I'd not heard of than players I had. I am, of course, aware of the likes of Dusty Baker, Phil Niekro and Clarence Gaston (that's how Cito signed the ball). But, Larvell Blanks? Never heard of him. I checked the Baseball-Reference page for the 1975 Braves. And methodically checking them off in a notebook, I marked where on the ball certain autographs were.

The 1975 Braves had 40 players. There are 27 signatures on the ball. One of them is Cylde King, the manager for part of the season. King's last game was on August 29. And checking the other names, twenty were with the Braves the whole season. Four players arrived mid-season, the last of which was Bruce Dal Canton, who was acquired from the Royals on June 30.

So that dates the ball at being signed between sometime in a nearly two-month window: June 30 to August 29.

Before we look at who signed the ball, let's look at the players who started the season with the Braves, but left before June 30, 1975: Craig Robinson*, Davey Johnson, Gary Gentry, Johnny Oates, Ron Reed, and Roric Harrison.

These are the players who definitely signed the ball: Biff Pocoroba, Buzz Capra, Carl Morton, Cito Gaston, Darrell Evans, Dave May, Dusty Baker, Earl Williams, Jamie Easterly, Larvell Blanks, Marty Perez, Max Leon, Mike Lum, Mike Thompson, Phil Niekro, Ralph Garr, Rod Gilbreath, Rowland Office, Tom House, Vic Correll, Elias Sosa, Ray Sadecki, Ed Goodson, Bruce Dal Canton, and Clyde King.

All good. Apart from two signatures.

One of those signatures is very difficult to read. Looks like it could say Johnny Something. None of the 1975 Braves players that aren't listed above really look like they could be the mystery name. Here are those players: Adrian Devine, Bob Beall, Frank LaCorte, Frank Tepedino, Mike Beard, Pablo Torrealba, Preston Hanna, Joe Nolan, Blue Moon Odom, and Rob Belloir.

This is the mystery signature:

At first, I wonder if Johnny Lee "Blue Moon" Odom signed his name "Johnny," but checking other autographs from around the time, he seemed to use "Blue Moon" a lot, so it would be odd if he didn't here. Plus it takes quite a squint to imagine the surname is "Odom." I'm at a loss with this one.

And the other signature? Well it is definitely someone called Lew Krausse. But is it Lew Krausse Sr. or Lew Krausse Jr.? I checked Google Images for photographs of signed cards. And, like my signature when I sign a credit card receipt, Lew Jr. seems to have a fairly erratic signature. Sometimes it looks like the one on the ball, sometimes not. One image of Lew Sr.'s autograph that looks very like the one on the ball. I'm not expert, but the lines of the pen on the ball and the lines on Lew Jr's signature below look pretty similar:

Clockwise from top: the signature on my ball; Lew Jr.'s autograph; Lew Sr.'s autograph. Images from SportsMemorabilia.com, and GasolineAlleyAntiques.com

Lew Jr. played for the Braves in 1974 before being released that December. Had he already signed a ball that, being frugal, the Braves didn't want to waste, so his mark was joined by the 1975 team?

So, there we have it. A ninety-nine cent ball from a Goodwill in Portland, Oregon. With a little bit of mystery attached. Should you have any ideas or information about the unknown signature, or about either of the Lews, it'd be great to hear from you. My email address is craig@flipflopflyin.com, or you can get in touch via Twitter, @flipflopflying is my name there.

Update, February 15: Thanks to Ben Goetting and Christian Ruzich who both pointed out that the ball is a reproduction ball, that is, the signatures are printed. Which makes sense with the uniform way the ink has "bled" a bit.

* Yes, indeed. An splendidly-named fellow. In fact, my sister got me a signed Craig Robinson baseball card for my birthday a couple of years ago. It is awesome.