By Tom Talbot
When Earl Weaver recently passed away, I thought back to one of my first baseball memories that resulted in a lifetime dedication to the Baltimore Orioles.
Of course, it was nearly impossible not to be an O’s fan when our Triple-A Rochester Red Wings were the O’s farm team. Most of the great Orioles came through Rochester on their way to the big leagues. That all changed after years and years of futility led the Wings to dump the O’s in favor of the Minnesota Twins.
There have been some great players since, including Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer, but who’s going to follow the Twins all the way in Minnesota from New York? During the Orioles-Red Wings marriage, many legends came and went, Cal Ripken Jr. probably the most memorable in 1981.
Back in 1979, the Birds were battling the “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. This was the prime of my little league baseball career, and I can remember buying packs of cards from the concession stands on a daily basis. Because I was the second youngest out of four boys, I wasn’t allowed to stay up to watch the games. But my oldest brother moved our tiny black-and-white TV into his bedroom (yes, there was a time when TVs did not have color – and had only three stations). I watched every game, unbeknownst to my parents, and I watched the Birds blow a three-game lead to the Pirates. That was not the best moment in Baltimore sports history.
The Orioles would be back and win it all in 1983, with the Iron Man and Joe Altobelli managing (who still lives here in Rochester). But I will never forget that special time in 1979.
Last month, I stumbled upon an eBay listing with a small collection of 1979 items, and I bid furiously until I won the auction. It included an official 1979 World Series ball, a little yellowed from age. It was signed by Earl Weaver on the sweet spot and several other Orioles. The perfect Mike Flanagan signature made me stop and think about his recent suicide.
There was also the official World Series program, which is cool to have but looks like a science fiction poster instead of a baseball program. What an unappealing cover! There were three First Day Covers, one from the 1979 World Series and two from the 1971 World Series (I was just born, so I doubt I watched that one on TV).
The 1979 First Day Cover has a perfect ballpoint Earl Weaver signature, and I definitely plan on matting and framing it. It’s fun when you can relive a special moment in time, and this relatively cheap auction did just that. I e-mailed the seller and he told me he was selling off most of his Orioles memorabilia for whatever reason. I continue to watch his auctions in hopes of another treasure. He did have a giant shadowbox listed containing a Brooks Robinson signed jersey and autographs of Ripken, Weaver and Eddie Murray, but when it went past $300, I had to pass.
Eighty-year old Joe Altobelli, the skipper of the 1983 World Series team recently did a signing at a local sports show in Batavia, N.Y. When the O’s won it all in 1983, Altobelli was at the helm after Cal Ripken’s father was fired, which must have left some bitter feelings. The promoter had a really cool 18-by-24-inch glossy photo for the event that featured the three Baltimore managers who won World Series: Altobelli, Weaver and Hank Bauer. Unfortunately, my photo will never have the Duke of Earl’s signature because he passed away in January 2013. Bauer died in 2007, but it’s still a really cool-looking piece and will look good in a framed display in the basement bar.
Though I missed out on getting Cal Ripken’s autograph last year at a charity dinner I attended, chatting with Cal as he passed over my Rochester Red Wings jersey, I did win a recent auction featuring a signed Wheaties box for less than $30. Ripken is one of those guys that Orioles fans can never get enough of. I will always attend any local event he is part of, and there’s a good one coming up this summer. Ripken, along with a dozen other baseball legends, is slated to participate in Pepsi Max’s Field of Dreams game, a promotion that one lucky fan has won the last couple of years. I heard that autographs were a bit hard to come by at last year’s game, but that won’t stop all the fans from trying. This year’s list includes Ripken, Reggie Jackson, Ken Griffey Jr., Ryne Sandberg, Brooks Robinson, Rickey Henderson and several other Hall of Fame members. Stan Musial was also supposed to appear but he, too, passed away earlier this year. It would have been great though – I never had the chance to meet one of my favorite legends, though I do have several of his autographs.
Another great event I’ve been waiting on since the Senior PGA Championship in 2008 is the PGA Championship coming here to Oak Hill Country Club this summer. I already have my giant golf ball, and I can’t wait to camp out at one of the holes for two practice days. If you have never been to a practice round at a pro golf event, put it on your autograph bucket list. Last time I think I scored more than 100 signatures, most of them on the official poster I purchased at the clubhouse, but also on hats, flags and anything else I could carry around with me.
It’s that time again to send out some fan mail requests to some of the tougher golfers and legends in care of the Masters Locker Room. Lately, a lot of the tournaments seem to be accepting and delivering fan mail to golfers during tournaments. But the Masters is the big one. Last year I sent two Arnold Palmer cocktail mixer bottles (part of his ice tea empire) in care of the locker room, along with a silver paint pen, and they came back signed perfectly. One of the only golfers who doesn’t touch his mail is Tiger (shocking), although he used to sign through the mail in his Stanford days.
Try your luck at: c/o The Masters Men’s Locker Room, 2604 Washington Rd., Augusta, GA 30904.