By Ross Forman
If you win it, they will come – in droves. Some will drive, some will fly – from many Midwest states, not just Illinois, where the Land of Lincoln is now also the Land of the 2016 World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.
They will come for autographs and photo-ops. They will cheer, shout and reflect back on the most magical baseball season in, oh, the past 108 years.
The annual Fanatics Authentic Sports Spectacular, held Nov. 18-20 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, was a mini-Chicago Cubs Convention – with the first public mass signing session for the 2016 Champs.
Sure, the show featured more than 100 autograph signers, but it was the Cubs who truly were the weekend stars.
More than 10,000 attended the show, which was the first chance for fans to catch a written message from Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and of course World Series MVP Ben Zobrist. The World Series lineup also featured autograph signing sessions with Dexter Fowler, Albert Almora, Aroldis Chapman, Jason Hammel, Justin Grimm, Kyle Hendricks, Matt Szczur, Mike Montgomery, Carl Edwards Jr., Miguel Montero and Wilson Contreras. Plus, Cubs coaches Chris Bosio, Dave Martinez and John Mallee were show signers.
Many former Cubs appeared, too, all drawing crowds and support for their signing, including Kerry Wood, Andre Dawson, Billy Williams, Jerome Walton, Dwight Smith, Ryne Sandberg, Goose Gossage, Lou Piniella, Mark Grace, Rafael Palmeiro and Lou Brock.
Broadcasters from the 2016 Series also signed: Frank Thomas, Alex Rodriguez and John Smoltz.
For Cleveland fans, the show featured an appearance by Francisco Lindor.
“If you’re a lifelong, diehard Cubs fan, a team-signed item from the 2016 World Series Cubs will be the centerpiece of a collection, as it will be for me,” said Brian Schwartz, the president/CEO of Morton Grove, Ill.-based sports memorabilia company Schwartz Sports, which has an exclusive autograph agreement with David Ross and others.
Fans packed the convention center for the signing sessions, particularly Friday night when the vast majority of the Cubs were signing.
Pitcher Jake Arrieta and manager Joe Maddon, who were not scheduled to appear at the show, are now a haunt for team-collectors, though. They are two of the most popular figures from the curse-breaking Cubs, yet each has declined offers since the championship to sign team items en masse.
The three-day show also featured autograph appearances by Bobby Hull, Dennis Rodman, Dick Butkus, Jeremy Roenick, Pete Rose, Randall Cunningham, Walt Frazier, Lawrence Taylor, Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson, Scottie Pippen, Cal Ripken Jr., and Johnny Bench, among others.
Hollywood was represented by appearances from the characters Bo, Daisy and Luke Duke (Dukes of Hazzard), plus John Cusack (Eight Men Out), and Tatum O’Neal (Bad News Bears).
This was one of the best shows of the year, without question. One of the best shows in many years.
But unfortunately, not without some downside, too.
Fanatics launched a new ticket procedure for autographs and admission, leading to long lines, ridiculously long lines, which angered many fans and ticked off dealers alike who watched fans wait in long lines and, thus, were unable to shop from dealers selling their wares. The ticket dilemma was a hot-topic throughout the show, unfortunately.
“It was a shame,” said one longtime hobby dealer who asked that his name not be used. “This show could have been a tremendous opportunity for growth of our collecting hobby. There were so many true baseball fans [attending], but so many were turned away [from the hobby] by the disorganization and poor management in so many areas of our trade show business.”
This show wasn’t just a regular show, one of the standard Fanatics marquee events. This was a show with the Cubs, the World Series champion Cubs. Everything was Cubbie Blue throughout the weekend. And yes, everything Cubs-related was for sale – from baby bibs to bats honoring the heroes.
“The joy of the World Series win was obvious with the true and pure giddiness of Cubs fans, as their team broke the 108-year curse,” said dealer Kip Ingle. “The Cubs championship led to brisk sales of anything and everything with the Cubs logo on it.”
Even cereal bowls featuring the famed Cubs logo were for sale.
Ingle said the most sought-after Cubs for single-signed baseballs were Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist. Addison Russell was a close fourth, Ingle added.
Ingle’s first two sales at the show were single-signed balls of David Ross ($90) and Theo Epstein ($80) – “from a fan who literally came running [to my table] to see what [Cubs-related] baseballs I had for sale,” Ingle noted.
Ingle also had a Stan Musial-signed ball for $80 … it went unsold.
Ingle was selling single-signed balls of Jon Lester and Ben Zobrist for $125, while Joe Maddon was $140. Arrieta and Rizzo single-signed balls were $175 each.
I saw one dealer selling a Bryant-signed 8×10 photo for $199, and he noted that the price was firm.
There also was a Bryant-signed bat with JSA certification, and a case, for $895.
Paul Furfaro of New Jersey-based PTF Sports said the most popular authentic-replica Cubs jerseys selling at the show were Bryant, Rizzo and Baez. He was expecting Schwarber to be a top-seller, but he wasn’t.
“I didn’t expect Baez to be as big and as popular of a seller as he was,” Furfaro said.
Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.