Friday, January 4, 2013

AUTOGRAPH MEMORIES: MICKEY AND WHITEY


ONE OF MY FAVORITE AUTOGRAPHS.



AN ARTIST ON THE MOUND AND WITH THE PEN.


I still can see billboards around Tampa with gigantic color comic-book type proclaiming, "MICKEY & WHITEY SIGNING AUTOGRAPHS NOV. 4 SUN DOME!! BE THERE!!'' 

Still can hear a recurring 30-second radio commercial shouting, "SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNDAY! MICKEY MANTLE AND WHITEY FORD AT THE SOLD-OUT SUN DOME IN THE MEGA-MONSTER AUTOGRAPH SHOW THAT'LL BLOW YOUR MIIIIINNNND!!!''

Forgive me if I sometimes think I saw those billboards and heard those commercials in 1989. Nonetheless, this was big, probably the biggest event to hit Tampa since a gentlemen's club unveiled The 12 Boobs of Christmas Holiday Show & Revue. Although I missed that one, I wasn't missing the chance to meet Mickey and Whitey, and of course, get their autographs. 

Let's be honest: If Whitey had been unable to attend, I wouldn't have drawn a tepid bath and wept while listening to Madama Butterfly. Nothing against The Chairman of the Board, but I was there to meet The Mick, Lord of the Loopy Autograph and demeanor to match. Whitey was a bonus, a very nice bonus. 

I worked with a fellow collector who told me he once got Mantle's autograph. Afterward, "Mickey Mantle shook this hand.'' He extended his right arm as a way to punctuate that experience as being Beatle-like. 

Speaking of work at The Tampa Tribune, our neighborhood sports section was planning a preview on the day of the show by publishing a DallaMorning News story on Mantle and his role in the burgeoning memorabilia industry. I volunteered, naturally, to edit and design the package that would run in all of the local sections. The photo department also got involved, shooting a studio photo of Mantle memorabilia: my cards and book and a friend's ball.

I had read other stories about a gracious Mantle accepting scrapbooks of newspaper clippings from fans at autograph shows. I also read stories about a boorish Mantle treating fans like the gunk that forms in the corner of your mouth after a hard night of drinking. I crossed my fingers while deciding to bring along a copy of our Mantle feature. I was just hoping he didn't toss it on the ground and whiz on it. 

The show was packed; it was held on the floor of the Sun Dome on the campus of the University of South Florida. My wife was with me, and we stood for well over an hour. When we got closer, I could see why: Mick and Whitey were posing for pictures and cutting up like two miscreant fourth-graders. 

The Duke of Drink was jovial on this day.

Finally, we were up. Mantle, appearing quite frisky, says "How ya doing, partner?'' My wife received a similar folksy welcome from Whitey, whom she handed a baseball.

I managed to return Mickey's greeting and give him two baseballs. After he signed them, I nervously pulled out the paper. "I worked on this for The Tribune, Mr. Mantle, and on behalf of the sports department, I want to give it to you.''

Mickey unfolded it.

"Hey, Slick, look at what this guy did?''

Ford leaned in. 

Mickey probably used it as a drink coaster later. Ah, who cares? At that moment, I couldn't have been prouder.

Just before I walked away, I stuck out my hand. 

"Nice to meet you, Mickey.''

Mickey Mantle shook this hand.


A SNIPPET OF MY ''MASTERPIECE CENTERPIECE/DRINK COASTER'' FROM NOV. 4, 1989.

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