By Ross Forman
When the 2014 National Sports Collectors Convention rolled into the I-X Center in Cleveland in 2014, Carlos Baerga signed autographs on the opening day. He was back at the convention center the next three days, too – but this time it was for personal reasons.
Baerga, who played in the majors from 1990-2005, including his first seven seasons for the Cleveland Indians, returned to The National to see former teammates, former friends and meet some of the event’s headline autograph signers.
He left the I-X Center with autographs, too.
“I like to collect; it’s really nice,” he said. “I’m very happy (at the show), seeing so many stars from so many sports, such as, Julius Erving, Barry Sanders, Rod Carew, Tommy Hearns, (and) Sugar Ray Leonard. I watched some of these stars when I was a little kid, so now to be close to them is extra special.”
Baerga was a .291 lifetime hitter with 134 career home runs, with stints on six teams (Cleveland, New York Mets, San Diego, Boston, Arizona and Washington). He was a three-time All-Star (1992, 1993, 1995) and two-time Silver Slugger Award-winner (1993, 1994). Baerga became the first second baseman since Rogers Hornsby in 1922 to have back-to-back 200-plus hit, 20-plus home runs, 100-plus RBI, and .300-plus average seasons when he accomplished the feat in 1992-93.
The switch-hitting Baerga also was the first of three players to hit a home run from both sides of the plate in the same inning. He did so on April 8, 1993, at Cleveland Municipal Stadium against New York Yankees pitchers Steve Howe and Steve Farr in the game’s seventh inning. On Aug. 29, 2002, Baerga was joined by Chicago Cubs utility player Mark Bellhorn, who accomplished the feat against the Milwaukee Brewers. On July 30, 2012, Kendrys Morales became the third player to accomplish this rare feat against the Texas Rangers.
Baerga has collected autographed bats and balls, and many other prized souvenirs, such as, a Jim Brown-signed Cleveland Browns helmet. Plus, he has autographs from Dan Marino, Bernie Kosar, and gloves from Muhammad Ali, obtained in Atlanta in 1996.
And an autograph from Mickey Mantle.
Baerga met Mantle in Boston. He had the Baseball Hall of Famer sign a baseball for him – and Baerga still has it.
“He was one of my idols, along with Roberto Clemente,” Baerga said. “My father wanted me to be a switch hitter because of Mickey Mantle. Meeting him was very special.”
Baerga’s collection also includes basketball autographs, and more.
And he has fond memories, and some signatures, from Bob Feller, including signed baseballs and photos. The two regularly played catch during spring training.
“He was like a father to me. I really appreciate him,” Baerga said.
Baerga was an assistant coach for Puerto Rico in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, and has managed the Indios de Mayaguez in Puerto Rico’s Roberto Clemente Professional Baseball League.
“I came to (The National) daily because I wanted to see the guys and say, ‘Hi,’” Baerga said.
So he greeted Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and Cal Ripken Jr., among others.
“(The National) was a lot of fun. I love it, love it, love it. It was very special,” he said. “I like to sit down and talk baseball, especially with former players. I would like the young players to listen to the retired players tell their stories. The players now have everything – beautiful ballparks, beautiful clubhouses, etc. I want them to hear from the [former] players about what baseball used to be like.”
Baerga said he still receives fan mail via the Indians, and confirmed that he answers it.
Baerga has most of his baseball cards, dating back to his rookies (1990). He eventually plans to make a collage of all his cards. His favorite card shows him turning a double play.
And yes, he added, “There are a couple that I don’t like (because of) the photo; I don’t look good.”
Baerga just collects his own cards, not cards of others.
Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.