By Ross Forman
He was the last signer added the list of autograph guests scheduled for the 39th annual National Sports Collectors Convention, held Aug. 1-5 at the I-X Center in Cleveland.
He also was, arguably, the biggest draw of The National.
Yep, Hulkamania was running wild in the TRISTAR Autograph Pavilion at The National when longtime pro wrestling icon Hulk Hogan appeared on Saturday afternoon.
Hogan posed for more than 125 photo-ops with fans of all ages – many wearing Hogan’s traditional red and yellow attire, or the black and white from his tenure with the New World Order (nWo). Hogan graciously greeted each fan with a personal, friendly approach.
All autograph guests should be at least half as engaging as Hogan always is.
“He is great with the fans, which wasn’t a surprise, nor was I surprised with the fans’ reaction, their love and admiration for Hogan. He’s always very engaging with the fans. He was one of the biggest hits of the show,” said Bobby Mintz, vice-president for Houston-based TRISTAR Productions, which runs the autograph pavilion at The National.
David Blakley, a collector from Dallas, added: “The most crowd excitement (in the autograph pavilion) was generated by Hulk Hogan. There was a huge roar from the very large gathered group of fans as he came out from behind the curtain at the photo booth.”
Before entering the public area to pose for photos, Hogan walked over to greet Darryl Strawberry. Hogan also greeted a family that came to the show from the Ronald McDonald House.
Hogan later signed hundreds of items for the public, then more in the back, including countless photos, magazines, trading cards, replica wrestling memorabilia and more.
Hogan truly was a World Champion Show Guest, one of about 140 guests who signed during the five-day run of The National.
“For the amount of athletes we had, I doubt it could have gone much better. It really was a special, star-studded event that went off flawlessly,” Mintz said “The highlight probably was Saturday when Albert Pujols, Jim Thome and all of the (baseball) legends were in the Autograph Pavilion, including Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio, Cal Ripken Jr., Reggie Jackson, and others. It really was a who’s who of modern baseball, and baseball history, too.”
Pujols, making his first-ever signing at The National, also was among the most sought-after signatures.
“Albert was very, very meticulous with his autograph,” Mintz said. “He certainly was a highlight of the show. He was very easy to work with, took great direction. Albert signed a lot of 500 Home Run Club items. He was very careful to not sign over other autographs.”
Pujols also signed autographs in the backroom on Friday.
“I can only say good things about him, especially for the fact that he gave two days to The National to sign autographs,” Mintz said. “It was very special having Albert Pujols at The National.”
Pujols and Hogan were, of course, among the top signers at the 2018 National, along with Thome, Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, Julius Erving, Francisco Lindor, Corey Kluber and Al Kaline.
Other high-demand signers at The National included Ken Griffey Sr., Dale Murphy, Corbin Bernsen and Eddie Murray, among others.
Gregg Jeffries, too.
“I expected the reaction to Gregg Jeffries would be pretty big because he was such a big star in the mid- to late-1980s, especially in the hobby. Sure enough, he had a large crowd to see him, get his autograph,” Mintz said.
Jeffries was one of several stars who went around getting their pictures taken with other stars. Jeffries walked over to speak with Thome, Biggio and others.
“Gregg made it very clear at the end of his signing that he wanted to be a part of future shows. He knew he was coming to a show to sign autographs, but had no clue of the magnitude of The National,” Mintz said.
What else happened in the TRISTAR Autograph Pavilion at the 2018 National? Let’s see …
Several fans wore “I Hate Christian Laettner” t-shirts when they approached the former Duke University standout basketball player. He laughed.
The reaction to Jim Kelly was special, warm and heartfelt. “A lot of people wanted to see him, wish him well, to continue his fight against cancer,” Mintz said.
“Probably the best moment I saw was an exchange between Jim Kelly and Rod Carew,” Blakley said. “When Jim saw Rod, he immediately wanted to have a talk with him and approached him by saying, ‘From one battler to another,’ and they hugged each other. They had a long conversation, and Jim asked to take a photo with Rod.”
Henry Winkler was approached by many of the sports stars – to get a photo with him.
Winkler stands throughout his signing session and is a gem when interacting with fans. He also had some of his kids’ books for sale.
TRISTAR President Jeff Rosenberg got to introduce his all-time favorite basketball player, Calvin Murphy, to the VIP show attendees on Wednesday.
Jose Rijo was one of the signers who was acquiring autographs from other athletes.
“I didn’t see a lot of guys getting autographs from other athletes, which was kind of strange. Normally I see a lot more of that,” Mintz said.
Ron Yary and others asked to keep some of his 8×10 photos.
Of the 150 scheduled signers, 10 did not appear, including Phil Esposito, Steve Carlton, Barbara Eden, Johnny Bench, Willie Brown, Dennis Eckersley and Roberto Alomar.
Nicest signature? Well, there were several candidates, yet Blakley gave the nod to Cincinnati Bengals Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz.
“He spelled out his entire first and last name, and even took the time to place a tilde over the letter N in ‘Munoz’ every time. In addition, he was very nice and conversational with everyone,” Blakley said.
Worst signature? Three candidates include Corey Kluber, Deion Sanders and Dennis Rodman.
Most unique inscription? That honor goes to Marshall Faulk who, when asked to add his Hall of Fame info, he wrote: HOF 20XI.
Second-best inscription spotted: Joe Thomas, HOF 2023. Yep, a fan asked Thomas to add the inscription, and Thomas obliged. The former Wisconsin offensive tackle, his 167-game NFL career (2007-2017) was played entirely for the Cleveland Browns.
More Thomas: He walked in on Hogan’s public photo session – to get a picture with Hogan.
From the “That’s A Clever Idea Department,” I saw a fan with a multi-signed Cincinnati Reds helmet – and the athletes signed it positional, as if it was a diagram of the team’s defense.
“It was obvious that the guys from the (Cincinnati Reds’) Big Red Machine still enjoy seeing each other after all of these years. (There was) humorous banter and laughter between them as each new player arrived,” Blakley said.
Thome and a young fan had “one of the most memorable moments of the weekend” at the photo-op area, said collector Chad King.
“As the young boy and his mother, both Cleveland Indian fans, approached the front of the line, the young fan started getting more and more nervous and began backing away several times. Once it was his turn, the hesitation seemed to melt away as the young boy sprinted to Thome with arms outstretched and literally leapt towards the Hall of Famer. Thome caught the young fan and, in one motion, hoisted him up to his chest, commenting that he’s glad he caught (the boy) and didn’t drop him. Thome and the young boy talked further and eventually smiled big for the camera, though the largest smile in the crowd that day was from the mom of the young fan.”
There were several in tears getting to meet Hogan.
Saw a collector get the 1989 Upper Deck Dale Murphy error card signed by the former Atlanta outfielder.
Pujols made time to talk and engage with Thome.
Several commented that Thome looks like he can still play. Thome laughed each time.
“Dressed in Pittsburgh Steelers’ (attire, including) hat, custom jersey, pants and Steeler socks, one fan showed former Steelers defensive great Mike Wagner his six replica Super Bowl rings. Wagner immediately asked, ‘Can I see the first one (from Super Bowl IX). Most people don’t know this, but the ring manufacturer made a mistake – and printed the wrong score on our Super Bowl rings. I want to see if the replica rings have the correct score – or if they replicated the mistake.’”
Funny Inscription: JUNKMAN, by Randy Jones, however, Jones said he was never called JUNKMAN during his career, just after retiring.
Oldest signer: Marv Levy, who signed the day before his 93rd birthday. Jim Kelly went over to Levy to wish him a Happy Birthday.
One young man from Pennsylvania brought a photo to Earl Campbell that Campbell took with his father (as a boy) and grandfather at a college awards show in the 1970s. Campbell asked him to tell him about his father and grandfather and to share with him their story of that night.
Eddie George and Gregg Jeffries talked about the old-days.
Livan Hernandez signed some autographs and then printed his name too … because his signature wasn’t very legible.
Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.