Tuesday, June 26, 2012
AUTOGRAPH MEMORIES: 500 HRs, 11 SIGNATURES
When did I become an autograph hound? After seeing a 500 home run club signed lithograph at a card show in the late 1980s.
You've probably seen one of these, a big-ass monument to '80s memorabilia excess: the 11 living players lined up along a baseline and their autographs below. A bunch of these were signed at a huge New York autograph event. Man, I stared at that piece a long time, longing to own it. I couldn't afford it, but when I later saw a 500 HR club baseball, I had my first serious autograph project to pursue.
It started with a Bobby Brown AL official ball from the late '80s. Mickey Mantle was my first autograph, on the lower half of the sweet spot. I got him at a show in Tampa. He was signing along with buddy Whitey Ford. They were great, super friendly and made time to talk to everyone.
Hank Aaron was acquired at an Atlanta card show. I wanted Ted Williams on the sweet spot with Mantle, but he refused to sign there. He was at a Baseball Assistance Team card show in St. Petersburg in the early '90s. The person who would take your item to give to Williams relayed my instructions.
"I'm not signing there. I'm signing here. What do you think about that?'' he said loudly enough for me to hear.
That's when I said loudly enough for him to hear, "Hey, Teddy Ballsack, blow me!!''
Actually, I said, "That's OK, Mr. Williams. Sign wherever you want.''
Striking out with The Splendid Sphincter, I then wanted to get Frank Robinson to sign alongside Mantle. I approached Robby a year or two later at an Orioles spring training workout in Sarasota when he was manager. "What, you want me to sign over Mickey Mantle?''
"Sign wherever you want.''
Aaron was one of the last ones I got, and I'm happy he squeezed his signature along the sweet spot. He probably deserves to be front and center anyhow.
Willie Mays joins Robby on that one panel. I got him at a card show in St. Petersburg, I believe. If you've ever gotten his autograph, you know he's about as cordial as an armed carjacker.
Reggie Jackson is teamed with Williams. He was at a Yankees autograph show during spring training in Tampa. Heard lots of horror stories about him, but he was pleasant.
Eddie Mathews appeared at a St. Petersburg card show and looked inebriated. He reeked of alcohol, but because I was asking only for his autograph -- and not a lift across the bridge to Tampa -- all was well. Like Aaron, I had to travel to get Willie McCovey; he was at a signing at Joe Robbie Stadium inside a suite. Miami hadn't even gotten the Marlins yet. It was a pretty neat place for an autograph signing.
Ernie Banks was snagged at a Tampa card show, and he was as nice as you could imagine, dressed casually in a jogging suit. Harmon Killebrew was at the same show as Williams, but he had a smile on his face instead of a bat up his ass.
That leaves Mike Schmidt, the final autograph. He never appeared in the Tampa Bay area, or the Southeast, when I was trying to complete the project. Finally, I saw he was participating in a private signing in the mid-'90s. I was extremely apprehensive about mailing this nearly completed ball. I said a few prayers and was relieved getting it back within a few weeks.
It was an exciting project to complete, but when Eddie Murray and Ken Griffey Jr. reached the milestone, the ball looked unfinished again. And then when Frank Thomas and Jim Thome crashed the party, the ball looked way out of date. I don't know if I have the ambition -- or cash -- to add their signatures, and there might not be enough room anyway. The original 11, obviously excited about being a part of my ball, signed a little big. And it'd be my luck someone would sign on top of one of their signatures.
Can't say I haven't been warned. Thanks, Robby.