Bargain Basement Baseball Bonanza

My father stumbled upon an estate sale last month while searching for books for his book store. The basement was filled with boxes and boxes of old sports publications: Sports Illustrated, Sport, Life and many others. Most were dated between 1970 up to the present, and the majority were in excellent shape. Knowing I’m a big autograph collector, Dad made an offer of $25 for all of them.
They gladly accepted.

It was a steal, and I’ve already found about 20 magazines to send out through the mail in the first box. It’s so much fun going through old sports publications, especially when you know who signs and who doesn’t. I really like the look and feel of the ’70s and ’80s covers and most of the labels can be removed safely with a hair dryer. There are also numerous programs and oddball issues mixed in with the magazines. There were even a couple old Pete Rose Wheaties boxes included.

The magazines were a great find, but nothing compared to the two large boxes of signed baseballs that Dad bought for $20. There were more than 80 signed baseballs from years of attending Rochester Red Wings games, our Triple-A farm club. I would say 75 percent of the balls are official game-used International League balls, while the other 25 percent are souvenir balls, and even a few Major League balls.

Most are single signed, but there are probably 10 team-signed balls that have the years written on the ball. It was a blast searching through the box and trying to identify a certain player or year.

Many of the balls show their age, and the autographs range from badly faded to like new. Another interesting note on these balls, they were signed with a wide range of pens. Some were signed with a Sharpie, some with red-ink pens, and some with regular ball point. It’s interesting to compare the signatures of different years and different pens. While baseball enthusiasts insist on ball-point pen on leather, many of the marker-signed balls look as if they haven’t faded at all. Some of the pen signatures are faded so bad that you can barely make them out. I haven’t come close to identifying all the balls yet, but here are the highlights so far:

The Rocket Man
This seven-time Cy Young Award winner probably signed this when he was playing for the Pawtucket Red Sox. Great single-signed ball done in black Sharpie. I recognized the Rocket’s signature right away and placed it in one of the cases. Yes, the Rocket has taken quite a beating since the steroid debacle, but he has always been a class guy in person and treated his fans with respect, even at the height of his popularity. 

Jamie Moyer
The oldest active player in the Major Leagues (46) was once in the lineup for the Rochester Red Wings in 1993. Moyer signed an official American League ball in blue ballpoint pen. He pitched in last year’s World Series, even though he had a stomach virus. And Jamie isn’t done yet – he signed a two-year deal in December.

Don Sutton
I have no idea when Hall of Famer Don Sutton stepped onto the old Silver Stadium grass, but it was probably a guest signing appearance back in the day. Sutton played in the Majors for 22 years and finished his career with more than 300 wins and 3,000 strikeouts. He’s now a broadcaster for the Atlanta Braves. This is another Hall of Fame signature I now have in my collection.

Johnny Oates
A Johnny Oates signature had been missing from my collection of Rochester legends, but not any more. I never had the chance to meet him before he passed away from brain cancer in 2004. Inside one of the baseball cases was a single-signed Oates ball, featuring his fluid signature on the sweet spot in blue ink.

Oates played catcher in the Majors from 1970-81 and managed the Red Wings in 1988. He continued in the Majors, managing the Orioles and Rangers, winning AL Manager of the Year in 1996.

Curt Schilling and Steve Finley Team Balls
Before Schilling was getting blood on his socks in the World Series for the Boston Red Sox, he played his minor league ball for the Red Wings. This 1990 team ball is signed in red pen and across the side panel is a perfect “Curt Schilling #19.” There’s also a signed 1988 team ball featuring five-time Gold Glover Steve Finley.

 Mike Flanagan
There’s a team ball marked “1975” that features several signatures, including future Orioles star Mike Flanagan. He won the Cy Young Award in 1979, the year the Orioles lost to the Pirates in the World Series. He led the league in wins that year with a 23-9 record.

Bob Grich
I also found another single-signed beauty by a future Orioles and Angels legend. Grich signed this ball on the sweet spot with a black Sharpie. Grich was a very durable second basemen for 17 years, excelling in both hitting and fielding. He won four consecutive Gold Glove awards and once hit three consecutive home runs in one game.

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