Mays by Mail, Thanks to Dad

It’s Willie Mays’ birthday. I’ve been addicted to Mays since reading his biography when I was probably nine. This is a story about a small Mays treasure that I sought through the mail and how it grew into a much larger treasure because of my father’s gift for writing threatening letters.

In February of 1976, I was 15-years-old and still collecting Willie Mays stuff. There was a company back then called The Sports Hobbyist based in Detroit, and the guy who ran this company (in fact, I think he may have been the company) was named Charles A. Brooks. He produced a catalog of available baseball cards, and my eyes nearly exploded at what I saw inside: a 1956 Topps Willie Mays card for $3.

Even in 1976, three bucks was pretty cheap for a 1956 Mays, and I was flush with cash from mowing lawns. This was a treasure that I could afford. So I handed Dad three singles and he wrote me a check for $3 (check No. 242, as it turns out), which I put in the mail to Mr. Brooks, prepared to wait the four weeks his ad claimed that it would take for orders to arrive.

When May arrived but Mays had not, I wrote to Mr. Brooks on Willie’s birthday (May 6th) and “inquired as to the disposition” of my order, “and the merchandise.” Those words in quotes belong to my father. We’re getting to that. Anyway, when I didn’t hear from Mr. Brooks for several weeks following my inquiry, I complained to Dad and he did what he did so well. He got to writing.

My father was many things in his career, but he wrote for the love of it, and he was really good. He wrote two novels, which are unpublished (so far) but terrific. He had a real gift for developing a plot, writing in his characters’ voices, and spinning a tale. But his greatest gifts as a writer typically revealed themselves in his letters. Dad was a sought-after letter writer among family and friends. If someone was having trouble with the water company or had been done wrong in some way that required an “official” response, Dad was exactly the right “official” to remedy the situation. He wrote letters that got results.

Like the time he missed a flight on Eastern Airlines, but his luggage did not. This effort took a few phone calls and more than one letter, if memory serves, but the end result was that Eastern delivered Dad’s luggage to our front door at no cost. Or the time my sister was denied entry into some college program. Dad set word to paper and before long a contrite dean was apologizing for any confusion to my father and my sister, and of course she would be admitted to the program, et cetera.

So when I’d hit a dead end with Mr. Brooks and The Sports Hobbyist, I knew exactly where to turn.

Dad’s intimidating letter begins like a trial, with exhibits listed at the top. Exhibit A is my written order for the baseball card (“as per your advertisement, priced at $3.00,” Dad wrote). Exhibit B was the cancelled $3 check (242), dated Feb. 6, and deposited on Feb. 9, 1976, at the Detroit Bank & Trust. Then Dad regaled some of what I’ve already told you. So then, here’s the nutritious meat of my old man’s brilliant letter to what I imagine was a quaking Mr. Brooks:

“[My son] has received no reply and has consulted me on the matter. My prime concerns are twofold: (a) That my son might possibly be disillusioned toward ‘legitimate business ventures’ at too early a stage in his life. (b) The possibility of a fraudulent operation, victimizing primarily children.

“While consulting the Legal Department of my Company, it was suggested that I write this letter before referring the matter to the Postal Authorities. With due advice, I am requesting that your reply (a full refund, plus postage costs for three mail pieces, and a full explanation to my son) by July 15th, 1976 – at which time I shall proceed, indeed, to pursue this matter, unless fully satisfied.

“Thank you, and I sincerely hope that the issue can be resolved and that my son’s faith in our ‘enterprise system’ can be restored.

“Respectfully, Anthony F. Grillo.”

Two weeks later I received what you see pictured here: The 1956 Mays, in terrible condition, plus the Willie postcard, a postcard of a wrestler I’d never heard of, a tobacco card of a boxer I’d never heard of, and a real surprise, a 1955 Bowman Willie (the one that looks like a TV set). I figure that Mr. Brooks was terrified of the legal department so he just kept stuffing things in the return envelope until he ran out of space.

Anyway, in the decades since that bicentennial summer, my faith in the enterprise system has waxed and waned, but my faith in Dad and his letters has never wavered, because I know what’s good for me.

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