Saturday, November 20, 2010

In-Person Autographs: Lots Of 'Em!

This morning, I shall burn through a big chunk of my draft folder to show you some autographs I've gotten in person. I'd been sitting on a bunch of these, waiting for the proper moment to post each, but to blazes with being timely and topical! I'd rather just tell stories and see if we can get some out of y'all when I'm done.
Like any good story that isn't too postmodern for its own good, we'll start at the beginning...

This very well-loved 1969 Topps Hank Aaron came out of a nickel bin at my local way, way back in 1986. I was stunned. "A real Hank Aaron card, for a nickel?" Not too long after that, I decided to make it even more well-loved when I brought it to one of the monster card shows they used to have at Convention Hall in Asbury Park. Hank was a guest there, and was the first big leaguer I ever met. For just $6, I got his signature in ballpoint pen (as mentioned in my 2nd-ever post here) on this beaten up ol' card. I don't remember saying much besides "hi" and "thank you", and Hank was basically just slogging through the autos, but it was still a pretty awesome first experience to have.

A few card shows later at the same place, The Killer signed a '73 Topps card in much better condition for me. I barely knew who he was at the time, being a kid and an East Coaster, so again, not much conversation, but I remember him being polite and friendly enough, and heck, he hit 573 home runs, which back then made him the guy who was highest on the career HR list that I knew nothing about! Still, getting 2 of the top 5 home run hitters of all time in my first 2 major card shows as a 12 year old kid, awesome. Part of me thinks I should try to get autos from all the living members of the 500 HR club, or at least all of the pre-Steroid Era ones. Willie Mays would be the tough/pricey one, but past him, I'd need Frank Robinson (high on my list of guys I want to meet, anyway), Reggie Jackson (I met him in '01, but didn't get an auto; wasn't an ideal opportunity because we were in a Cooperstown card shop full of people looking for him, and I tried to keep it on the downlow because no one else recognized him yet!), Mike Schmidt, Willie McCovey, Ernie Banks and Eddie Murray (the last guy from my childhood to do it, even if he finished up a few years into the Steroid Era; I'd be genuinely stunned if Murray juiced, though). Some of those names are pricey if you pay for them, but that's not an insurmountable list. Definitely something to think about.

Willie! I met him at a mall card show that he did in 1987 not too far from me. It was in-season (I can't remember how he pulled off the logistics on this. Off-day? Night game? All-Star break? Disabled List?), and because I met him in the middle of  Paul Molitor's hitting streak and I was excited about it, I squandered a chance to ask him any one of a million questions about himself, the Yanks and so forth to ask him about Molitor. Willie was cool with it, though. Very nice guy.

I'm not entirely sure where I got this postal cover of Catfish Hunter. Might've been at one of the Convention Hall shows I mentioned earlier, might've been somewhere else, but I remember thinking, even as a kid, that it was a cool piece, so I ended up bringing it to a card show I went to that Catfish and Steve Carlton signed at. I had Steve sign an NL baseball (Folks, what's the best way to photograph baseballs?) and remember him being happy and friendly despite the stories that, even as a kid, I had heard about him being a Catfish obviously signed this piece, and he was very nice. Guy had a huge, great smile that I'll never forget. He's always been one of my favorite players, even with me having just missed seeing him play (he retired in '79, I started watching baseball in '80), so meeting him may be my best memory out of all the players I've met (though Reggie was definitely close).

I got this card of Robert Scott the first time I was in Cooperstown on Induction Weekend, back in '01. It was actually part of a two-for-one deal with the late Pee Wee Jenkins (whose card I need to scan still, but I'll post it as soon as I do; Pee Wee hand-cut his own cards!). At the time, beyond that they were both Negro Leaguers (and in the interest of honesty, I was slightly skeptical of their pedigrees before I did some homework, even though I was meeting them in a place where they'd easily be outed if they weren't legit; I'm a little embarrassed about that now, but hey, full disclosure), I didn't know much of anything about either Bob or Pee Wee. Pee Wee, I didn't get to meet again, as he passed the April after I met him, but Bob's been a fixture in Cooperstown over the years I've been going up for Induction Weekend (I haven't been up in a couple of years, and I miss seeing him there; really want to make it up this coming July, regardless of who gets into the Hall, because I miss faces like his...) has become a go-to guy on the history of the Negro Leagues, did this great interview with the New York Daily News around the time of Barack Obama's inauguration, has his own Allen & Ginter card this year (that I still *really* need; trades welcome) and is just cool all-around. Had a great conversation with him one year about how he chose his table spot on Main Street based upon its proximity to the good sausage and pepper sandwiches. A man after my own heart!

Graig Nettles was another of my favorite Yankees growing up and is just a cool guy with a really dry, biting wit. His book "Balls", about his last season with the Yanks in '83, is definitely worth a read if you get a chance. I've met Graig a couple of times in Cooperstown, as he's also there just about every year. I got his autograph last time I was in town, in '08. At the time, Graig had recently met Artie Lange, who for years had been signing into hotels using Graig's name (most famously with a prostitute who ripped him off; Artie didn't pursue her, because he "didn't want to get Mr. Nettles in trouble"), and I asked him if he thought that the face to face meeting would finally put an end to Artie assuming his identity. "No, I'm afraid that it's only going to encourage him."

Finally today, an autograph on one of the best cards of all time, the 1986 Topps Dwight Gooden card. I got this signed by Doc on my '08 Cooperstown trip and had a few minutes to say hi, ask him about his son's record, which was just about to come out at the time, and get a picture with him:

A lot has been made of Doc's well-publicized troubles over the years, and earlier this year, he got into some more trouble, though I think that's going to end up blowing over. I hope, as I have for years, that Doc keeps it together from here on, as he really seemed like a good guy who's got his heart in the right place when I met him.

So, those are a few of my favorite in-person autos, and the stories behind them. (I've got some more, but I don't want to totally spoil you guys.) Let's hear some of yours!


  1. Wow... awesome post... loved reading those stories. Obviously all of those autographs are amazing... but my favorites are the Hunter and the Gooden. Hunter... because he played on the A's... and Gooden... because that card looks awesome! Great job!

  2. Thanks! Yeah, the '86 Gooden's one of my favorite cards of all time. One of those cards that epitomizes an entire era of baseball. Doc did a nice job putting ink on it, too. '86 Topps are, in general, great for autos, if a bit condition-sensitive (I've got Jim Rice, another in-person I didn't get to yet, on an '86 Topps too).

    Catfish had his best years with the A's, of course. He'd have been just as cool playing for anyone, though!

  3. Never thought of 86 Topps as a great set to get autographed... but now that I think of it... I totally agree. Can't wait til you show off that Rice of yours. He was another one of my childhood favorites.

  4. Jim Rice was a monster on the field. Off the field, his hand was cramping up by the time I got to the end of a very long autograph line at a Blue Claws game, but it's still a cool signature to have. I'll probably scan it and post it in the next round of signatures I do.


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