Postseason baseball is shaped by the iconography that is baseball itself. In the last quarter century, some of baseball’s most memorable moments played out on what proved to be the biggest stage possible.
From dramatic homeruns (who can forget Kirk Gibson in 1988 or Joe Carter going deep five years later?) to the straight up weird (we were treated to two in 2003…Steve Bartman in Chicago and the Pedro Martinez throw down of Don Zimmer), baseball fans have pretty much seen it all.
On October 25, 1986…the world bore witness to a routine ground ball that changed the course of the World Series for one team, prolonged a curse for another and overshadowed what was a pretty good career for Bill Buckner.
Much like the Bartman incident or Gibson hobbling around the bases, that ball going under Buckner’s mitt is one of baseball’s most widely known images and to one man…it is the cornerstone of a rather unique collection.
Seth Swirsky is the keeper of, if you ask me, one of the best privately owned baseball collections. Recently, I had the privilege to talk to him.
HOVG: You’ve accomplished plenty. Songwriter, artist, author, filmmaker…but, I’m cutting right the chase on this one. How did you end up in possession of the “Buckner Ball”? It was owned by Charlie Sheen before you got your paws on it, right?
SETH: Yes. Charlie was the first owner of the ball. He bought it at auction, in 1992. He auctioned it in April, 2000 and I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get one of those iconic pieces. The underbidder to both Sheen and me was Keith Olbermann.
HOVG: Okay…now that that is out of the way, let’s talk some baseball and not just about one ball. If someone were to head over to your site and look at your collection, what would be the first piece you’d want them to see…the crown jewel?
SETH: There are many. The letter from Commissioner Kenesaw “Mountain” Landis that banned “Shoeless” Joe Jackson; Reggie Jackson’s 3rd Home Run Ball from Game 6 of the ’77 World Series: Tom Seaver’s ’69 World Series Home Jersey; The "Buckner Ball"...rare autographs of the midget Eddie Gaedel and “Shoeless” Joe (who was illiterate); a baseball signed by The Beatles on the night they played their famous Shea Stadium concert, in August, 1965. Too many “favorites” to mention. They all are part of the many themes in my collection.
HOVG: How did you get started with collecting? What was your first piece?
SETH: In November 1994, I bought, off of QVC, a baseball signed by the living members of the ’69 Mets. I grew up loving that team, so I bought the ball. I found that I really enjoyed looking at the ball with all those signatures. I then saw a 1952 N.Y. Yankees team ball with Mickey Mantle on it. It was a beautiful ball. I bought it and still have it. I then got to spend an afternoon with the famed collector, Barry Halper and I saw the quality of his things. Every piece told a story. Barry loved themes and truly historic pieces. I was very fortunate to have met him and become a good friend of his.
HOVG: Any recent finds?
SETH: I just picked up the first home run hit at Wrigley Field in it’s first-ever night game. It was hit by Lenny Dykstra in 1988. It goes with a theme I have called “Like Night and Day” and includes a baseball used in baseball’s first-ever night game (in May, 1935, in Cincinnati), a program from that game, a letter from the starting Reds pitcher that night and a ticket to that game. I also have a ball used in the first night game in Brooklyn Dodgers history that also happened to be the occasion of Johnny Vander Meer’s 2nd no hitter. Along with those things, I have a ball used in the first night game in St. Louis history (a Browns game in 1940) along with a very old photograph of Thomas Edison...whose invention of the lightbulb made baseball at night possible!
HOVG: Is there anything that your wife Jody looks at and wishes you didn’t purchase?
SETH: No. She digs my passion.
HOVG: Despite your allegiance to the New York Mets, your baseball hero was, if I’ve done my homework correctly, Mickey Mantle. Tell me about your 1994 meeting with “The Mick”.
SETH: It was the first autograph “show” I went to. It was in San Francisco, around Thanksgiving, 1995. I remember shaking Mickey’s hand. A warm, huge hand. He was such a nice man. And so nice to everyone in line. A real good guy. I asked him, of all the rings he’s won, which was he wearing? He said “my Hall of Fame ring...you know, I went in with Whitey”, referring to his great friend on the Yankees, pitching great, Whitey Ford. He showed it to me. It was a neat experience. He died about 10 months later. I was so glad to have met him. He really made an impression...of a warm, nice, real human being!
HOVG: Which brings me to your books. You said in a 2000 interview that Mantle’s was the one letter that you wished you had gotten in return. For those that aren’t familiar, you’ve authored three books where, basically, you re-print letters that you’ve received from baseball players, as well as some of the game’s more popular fans. Where did you ever come up with the idea? Did it start as another way to get some cherished memorabilia or fodder for a book? Or both?
SETH: No, I wrote those letters because I started to delve deep into the rich history of the game and I simply wanted answers to some questions from the players that participated in some of the great moments. Tons of players wrote back...very famous players and not so famous players. I just loved their stories, in their handwriting, with other people.
HOVG: Of all the replies that you’ve received…do you have a favorite?
SETH: I love Cal Ripken Jr.’s letter about how he became close to his dad. He wrote that he had five brothers and sisters and his dad, who was a coach with the Orioles, would take him to the ballpark with him as none of his other siblings wanted to go. I used to love to “go to work” with my dad growing up and it reminded me of that poignant moment. But, there are so many. Handwritten letters from Sir Paul McCartney, President George W. Bush, Ted Williams, Tom Seaver…they run the gamut.
HOVG: You’re a huge baseball fan, clearly. But as you’ve said, your “soul is in music”. Tell me about that letter you received from McCartney?
SETH: I saw him on TV at a Yankees game. During the seventh inning stretch, the organist played The Beatles great song, “I Saw Her Standing There”. Paul got up and sang it out loud. I thought, I’m going to write to Paul to get the story of how he got into liking baseball and what it was like for him to hear Beatles songs over huge loudspeakers while he’s a spectator at a baseball game. A week later, I got a Fedex from London, opened it and out pops a two paragraph, handwritten letter from Sir Paul for my third book of letters called "Something to Write Home About: Great Baseball Memories in Letters to a Fan". It was thrilling to get his letter.
HOVG: Let’s talk music and that love of The Beatles. Great artists and songwriters, who, collectively…are, quite possibly, are one of the greatest bands ever assembled. In your estimation…who would be the baseball equivalent of The Beatles?
SETH: The closest I can think of is the 1976-1981 New York Yankees. They went to the World Series four times in those years. They had a cast of "cool" characters (“Reggie”, “Sweet Lou” Pinella, Bucky Dent) and they could beat you in many ways...like the many ways The Beatles could make you feel when listening to their albums.
HOVG: One last Beatles-related question…when are we going to be able to see the documentary, "A Year in the Life", you’ve been putting together?
SETH: It is being edited now with a hopeful release next year.
HOVG: Anything you want to add? What’s going on currently in your life and what is next?
SETH: I’m finishing up my new solo record called “Watercolor Day”. 15 pop songs. Due out, this January. Check out www.seth.com. Also, my band, The Red Button, will have a new album out in the spring and we’re going on a European tour in April-May.
Seth Swirsky is an American pop music songwriter, recording artist, author, filmmaker and memorabilia collector. His music credits include working with the likes of Celine Dion, Tina Turner, Air Supply, Michael McDonald and Al Green.
Most recently, he has recorded with The Red Button alongside Mike Ruekberg. Their debut album “She's About To Cross My Mind” was released in 2007 to critical acclaim.
Swirsky’s three books "Baseball Letters: A Fan's Correspondence With His Heroes", "Every Pitcher Tells A Story: Letters Gathered by a Devoted Fan" and "Something to Write Home About: Great Baseball Memories in Letters to a Fan" are half of the books I’ve read in the last two years.