By Ross Forman
Some of the most popular autograph guests set to appear at the 34th annual National Sports Collectors Convention are not Hall of Famers in their respective sports – and might never be inducted, despite their illustrious on-field careers.
Still, fans and collectors are clearly excited to meet them, snag a photo alongside the former stars or get an autograph or two.
ake, for instance, Neal Anderson, the former Chicago Bear who was a four-time Pro Bowl running back and still ranks as the team’s second-leading all-time rusher. He called Soldier Field home from 1986-93 and is only behind Walter Payton in career rushing yards for the Bears. Anderson has done very few public autograph signing sessions since retiring.
“He has not made a sports collectibles show appearance in Chicago in a long, long time. I suspect he’ll have a long, long line,” said Bobby Mintz, vice president for Houston-based Tristar Productions Inc., which has organized and run the autograph pavilion at the National Convention every year since 2006.
Anderson is signing free autographs on Wednesday, July 31 – the first day of this year’s sports collectibles extravaganza known as The National.
Then there’s Roger Clemens: One of the best pitchers in baseball history. But he pitched during the steroid era and has long been linked to performance-enhancing drugs. Still, collectors can’t get his autograph fast enough, or often enough. Weeks before heading to Chicago for the National – which runs July 31-Aug. 4 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in suburban Rosemont, Ill. – Clemens is, hands down, the top seller of preshow autograph tickets. Clemens is scheduled to appear at The National on Sunday, Aug. 4, and autograph tickets range in price from $199-$299, and inscription tickets are $99.
Clemens autograph tickets likely will sell out to the public well before Sunday morning. This is Clemens’ first public autograph appearance in more than seven years.
Ironically, The National also will feature an autographing appearance by one of Clemens’ biggest on-field rivals, Mike Piazza – another superstar on the field who also has yet to receive Hall of Fame accolades.
Piazza is scheduled to sign on Saturday at The National, starting at 12:30 p.m. His
autograph tickets range in price from $179-$399, and it’s an additional $50 for an inscription. This is Piazza’s first public autographing appearance in the Midwest.
“Seems like the names signing at The National are getting bigger and bigger. But the thing that scares me is, so are the prices. Still, for those who collect autographs, I think they will be very happy with this year’s autograph pavilion,” said dealer John Arcand. “The autograph pavilion always is one of the bigger draws of every National.”
This year is no exception. In fact, it might be the best autograph lineup at any National.
“I think our lineup is pretty strong and we’re very excited about it,” Mintz said. “With The National, one of the things you try to do is get athletes who don’t traditionally appear at card shows. That’s always a challenge, though.”
This year’s autograph lineup does a solid effort to provide those rare names, however, with such guests as Frank Gifford, Rick Monday, Troy Smith, Terry Baker, Mia Hamm, “Sugar” Ray Leonard, “Sugar” Shane Mosley and Roy Jones Jr.
“This year’s National has some great names who aren’t regulars on the show circuit,” said longtime collector Jon Carr. “I think Lou Holtz will do well given the closeness to Notre Dame and his status in Notre Dame history. Names like Mia Hamm and some of the boxers, ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard and ‘Sugar’ Shane Moseley, should sell well.”
Another interesting name among the autograph signers at this year’s National is Brandon Webb, set to appear Saturday, starting at 11:30 a.m., with autograph tickets starting at $39. Webb won the 2006 National League Cy Young Award and was a three-time All-Star. A series of shoulder injuries sidelined him for much of 2009-12, and after several aborted comeback attempts, he retired earlier this year.
“A lot of the contemporary players, those who have made a lot of money on the field, it is difficult to get them to appear,” Mintz said.
This year’s autograph lineup is baseball-heavy, arguably the best baseball roster ever appearing at The National, including 22 Hall of Famers, plus such future Hall of Famers as Frank Thomas, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez, among others.
“As the owner and operator of the autograph pavilion, we owe it to the collectors and dealers that we take a very serious look at it to see what we can do to make it a great National show,” Mintz said.
The football lineup is impacted by the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which coincides with The National. Still, there will be 14 Hall of Famers, including Bart Starr, Mike Ditka, Dan Hampton, Marv Levy and “Mean” Joe Greene, among others. However, don’t expect Green to sign “Mean.”
The basketball lineup includes Hall of Famers Jerry Lucas, Elvin Hayes and Chris Mullin, plus NBA Rookie of the Year Damian Lilliard.
The five athletes appearing representing hockey include Bobby Hull, Tony Esposito and Ed Olczyk, among others.
There will be six boxers appearing, including Larry Holmes and Tommy “Hit Man” Hearns.
There also will be six horse racing jockeys, including Steve Cauthen, who rode Affirmed to the Triple Crown in 1978, the youngest Triple Crown winner in history.
“The preshow ticket sales are very strong; there is a lot of interest in the autograph pavilion,” Mintz said. “Our goal in the autograph pavilion is simple: To draw as many people as possible to experience The National. That means we want to have something or someone that appeals to everyone.
“I think every sports fan should come to this show, at least one day. This isn’t just a card show; this is an event. The National has the greatest collection of dealers together under the same roof, plus the greatest collection of autograph signers,” Mintz continued.
“We’re really trying to get the casual sports fan, those who don’t traditionally go to card shows. The National is not just an average event, just a small weekend card show. This is the granddaddy of them all. That’s why you want, and need, to have those players appearing who fans and collectors don’t get to see and meet very often.”
But the autographs, of course, come with a price tag. Well, for many. There are some free signers, such as Olympians Bob Beamon and Dick Fosbury, and former baseball pitcher Dwight Gooden. The low-priced signers ($20) include Milt Pappas, Ronnie Bull, Jim Morrissey, Ron Kittle, Pat Listach, Murray Bannerman and Ralph Garr.
On the other end of the dollar sign, so to speak, there are eight National signers whose autograph starts at more than $100. The high-dollar signers are Rickey Henderson ($119), Randy Johnson ($179), Chipper Jones ($149), Pedro Martinez ($139), Mike Piazza ($179), Roger Clemens ($199), Cal Ripken Jr. ($159), and Bart Starr ($169).
The best value at The National might just be Pro Football Hall of Famer Marv Levy, with a $29 price tag.
“Millions of dollars will be spent on autographs at the show,” Mintz said. “Autographs are a big, big deal and big, big business.”
Mintz said he always suggests snagging signatures of the older former players, such as Gifford, Bob Gibson or Ernie Banks. Last year, for instance, Baseball Hall of Famer Earl Weaver appeared at The National. Weaver died this past January.
“I feel I have a tremendous responsibility to bring fans and collectors who and what they want in the autograph pavilion. Our company has that responsibility and we take it seriously. That said, it really is a lot of fun doing what we do,” Mintz said. “This will be one of the biggest National autograph pavilions ever.”
And quite possibly, the best ever.
National fun facts
Here are some interesting tidbits regarding the Autograph Pavilion at the 2013 National Sports Collectors Convention:
- Estimated number of autographs that will be signed: 50,000
- Estimated number of Sharpie pens that will be used: 500
- Estimated number of footballs that will be signed: 1,000
- Estimated number of baseballs that will be signed: 10,000
- Estimated number of 8-by-10 photos that will be signed: 7,500.
With preorders well underway, here are some tidbits regarding what collectors are looking for.
TOP 10 MOST POPULAR SIGNERS (IN ORDER): Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Chipper Jones, “Sugar” Ray Leonard, Mike Ditka, Pedro Martinez, Ernie Banks, Bart Starr, Cal Ripken Jr. and Frank Gifford.
Top 10 surprise signers: Ron Turcotte, Jack McDowell, Rick Monday, Terry Baker, Troy Smith, Bret Saberhagen, Brandon Webb, Eric Davis, Ralph Garr and Gary Peters.
Top 10 unique inscription suggestions:
1. “Rocket” for Roger Clemens
2. “Hit Man” for Tony Gwynn
3. “Da Bears” or “Da Coach”
for Mike Ditka
4. “Mr. Cub” for Ernie Banks
5. “17-0” for Bob Griese
6. “Mr. Brave” for Chipper Jones
7. “Iron Man” or “The Streak” for
Cal Ripken Jr.
8. “The Idiots” for Johnny Damon
9. “The Terminator” for Jeff Reardon
10. “The Intellectual Assassin”
for Ron Mix.
Tristar offers numerous VIP Packages so National attendees can maximize their time at the show and limit time spent in long lines waiting to get an autograph. VIP packages start at $129, and go up to the All Access Super VIP Package ($279), which is the most popular option for collectors seeking autographs throughout the show.
For more information on the autograph guests at The National, including late changes, signing times, go to: www.tristarproductions.com/National. Tickets for all autograph signers, plus VIP packages, as well as memorabilia to be signed can be purchased now on the Tristar website.
Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.