Yogi Berra Stamp Might Be The Last Baseball For A Time


When the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center opened on the University of Montclair campus in New Jersey in 1998, Berra was well aware of how unusual it was to be there to celebrate.

“I’m lucky,” he said. “Usually you would die to get your own museum.”

Even Yogi wasn’t lucky enough to see his own United States Postal Service stamp. No one has ever been this lucky.

The first US postage stamps were issued in 1847, and since then, no living person has been specifically honored with a depiction on a stamp. And with the exception of American presidents, who are typically commemorated within a year of their death, it has always been a multi-year period for a deceased person to appear on stamps. The current waiting period is three years.

However, the process usually takes significantly longer.

Berra is dead about six years ago. Until last Thursday, outside of Berra’s museum and Bob Costas hosting a star-studded ceremony, the Postal Service officially released the Yogi Berra commemorative stamp.

This ceremony put Berra in rare company. Traditionally, the highest honor for a baseball player is to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In the 86-year history of the institution, 263 people have been selected as players. But the Postal Service memorial service is a much more special club, as Berra is the 30th baseball player whose image has been stamped.

The vast majority of these stamps have been part of multiplayer “issues”. Berra is in an even rarer group: he is the first player since Lou Gehrig in 1989 to receive an expulsion of his own. After Gehrig, every player on the stamp has been part of a larger set: Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and Roger Maris in the 1998-99 “Celebrate the Century” series; 20 players in the “Legends of Baseball” in 2000; the mid-century four stars in 2006’s “Baseball Sluggers” issue; and one “MLB All-StarsIt was founded in 2012, featuring Joe DiMaggio, Larry Doby, Willie Stargell, and Ted Williams.

Now, nine years after the last baseball stamp, the scene belongs entirely to Berra.

Will it be another nine years before we see another player honored? There is absolutely no shortage of candidates.

At least seven Hall of Famers have died in 2020 alone: Lou Brock, White Ford, Bob Gibson, El Kaline, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro and Tom Seaver. Then, shortly after 2021, baseball took a crushing blow with his death. Henry AaronHe captivated the country in the early 1970s with Ruth’s pursuit of the career record for home runs and later became known as a vocal civil rights activist.

While neither Aaron nor the other recently deceased Hall of Fame members are currently eligible for stamps due to current cooldown rules, there is an impressive backlog of candidates who deserve it.

Ernie Banks and Stan Musial died before Berra and are among 14 baseball players (like Berra) to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Warren Spahn (like Berra, a war hero) has been dead for nearly 20 years and will likely hold the title of baseball’s highest-paid left-handed pitcher forever. The Postal Service might also consider Minnie Minoso, an Afro-Latin pioneer whose long career included stops with the New York Cubans in 1946 and the Chicago White Sox in 1980.

before MLB chose to recognize In considering the Negro leagues as the equivalent of the big leagues, the Postal Service had already honored Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson. But there are plenty of options from these leagues, including Oscar Charleston, Buck O’Neil, Turkey Stearnes, Cool Papa Bell, Bullet Rogan and Bill Foster.

So when can we expect some of these players to be honored?

Short answer: It’s complicated.

If you want to see the Turkey Stearnes stamp in 2024, you can send your offer in writing via US mail. (On the website of the Postal Service, there is a statement that “No personal applications, telephone calls or e-mails are accepted”.)

According to William Gicker, longtime stamp services manager for the Postal Service, “We receive approximately 30,000 offers a year for stamps.”

If your proposal meets the “stamp issue selection criteria”, it is automatically evaluated by the Postal Service’s citizen stamp advisory committee of 13 volunteers, currently appointed by the postmaster, whose work is carried out in a figurative black box.

The real venue for their discussion is an ordinary boardroom on the top floor of the Postal Service’s headquarters in Washington. The advisory council meets four times a year in that conference room (or via Zoom when a pandemic strikes) for a day and a half. Negotiations are strictly confidential when reviewing offers for individual stamps or larger programs.

“We enter every meeting with an agenda,” said Gicker, who has attended meetings for over 20 years. “Although discussion can become heated, we encourage peer-to-peer discussion. We want committee decisions to be seen as decisions of the whole committee, not of individuals.”

Committee approval is only the first step (or one first step). When a stamp or program is given a nod by the committee and the general manager, it needs an artistic director. There are four of them in the stamp program, including Antonio Alcala. “I usually raise my hand, maybe a little higher,” Alcala said of others when it comes to a sporting topic.

Alcala took over the post after Berra was approved in 2018. He collected dozens of photos that could be models for an outside artist and available at the right price (the Postal Service has a relatively small budget for each stamp). When he cut the images down to six or eight, Alcala said he reached out to painter Charles Chaisson, who had never worked on stamps before.

“In 2018, Antonio contacted me,” Chaisson said. “I remember him telling me how long the whole process was going to take and thinking, ‘Oh, man. I come from a family of letter carriers between my mom, uncle and grandpa, my family has 90 to 100 years in the post office in New Orleans and it was really hard to keep that secret. I told my mother, but I swore to keep it secret.”

Chaisson needed a week to submit a sketch based on an undated Associated Press photograph taken during a Yankees spring training camp in Florida, and after it was approved, “Then I hand-drawn the whole thing to look like an oil painting,” he said. . This took about a week.”

All this was almost three years ago. For most of that time, no one except the Postal Service and Chaisson (and her mother) knew anything about the Berra stamp.

“Our whole process is top secret and we don’t want false starts,” Gicker said. “So nothing becomes publicly available until everything is legally cleared and everyone – both the USPS and the property, the family – is completely satisfied with the design.”

“They contacted me in August last year and said the U.S. Postal Service was interested in issuing your father’s stamp,” said Larry Berra, the eldest of Berra’s three sons. “They sent us the picture and my brothers and I approved it. They also needed to get permission from MLB. As the manager of my father’s estate, I signed the rights to use his image for the stamp. It all happened pretty quickly.”

“We’ve also signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement, agreeing to remain silent until official announcement this spring,” he said. “Still, I would piss people off by saying we had a big surprise.”

MLB was also weighed in with the type-related notes on the stamp.

The letters of Berra’s name, a unique typography Alcala ordered from a letter artist for this project, have been adjusted as well as some other details to achieve what Alcala calls “a greater sense of Yoginess.”

While the process has many steps, choosing a topic for a stamp and the team that will design it is the easy part. The real X factor is a rights issue.

“At the end of the day,” Gicker said, “The Postal Service wants the issuance of stamps to be a celebration, and not marred by any sadness or ill-feeling.”

Will we see Ernie Banks on a stamp? This is a complex question, with years of debate over his will. How about Musial, Minoso, or Dottie Kamenshek from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League? Or perhaps most importantly, Aaron? Even just the people in that Postal Service meeting room can start learning. For now, we can have fun with the wit, wisdom, and face of the singular Berra.

Berra reportedly once said, “So I’m ugly.” “I’ve never seen anyone hit him in the face.”

Ugly? Berra was being very hard on herself. Is it his stamp? This beautifully crafted, sticky little rectangle now crisscrosss America on its way to thousands of lucky mailboxes.


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